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No Such Thing as Society: A History of Britain in the 1980s [Kindle Edition]

Andy McSmith
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)

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Book Description

The 1980s was the revolutionary decade of the twentieth century. To look back in 1990 at the Britain of ten years earlier was to look into another country. The changes were not superficial, like the revolution in fashion and music that enlivened the 1960s; nor were they quite as unsettling and joyless as the troubles of the 1970s. And yet they were irreversible. By the end of the decade, society as a whole was wealthier, money was easier to borrow, there was less social upheaval, less uncertainty about the future.

Perhaps the greatest transformation of the decade was that by 1990, the British lived in a new ideological universe where the defining conflict of the twentieth century, between capitalism and socialism, was over. Thatcherism took the politics out of politics and created vast differences between rich and poor, but no expectation that the existence of such gross inequalities was a problem that society or government could solve - because as Mrs Thatcher said, 'There is no such thing as society ... people must look to themselves first.'

From the Falklands war and the miners' strike to Bobby Sands and the Guildford Four, from Diana and the New Romantics to Live Aid and the 'big bang', from the Rubik's cube to the ZX Spectrum, McSmith's brilliant narrative account uncovers the truth behind the decade that changed Britain forever.

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Product Description


It was a wild, wild decade: strong politics, riots, revival, bad hair, great comedy, some dreadful music, lurid newspapers and a war or two. The Margaret Thatcher rollercoaster carried so many of us into today's Britain, with so many bumps and shrieks, that it needs a writer of cool judgement and a reporter who misses nothing to tell its story. Andy McSmith has managed it, ranging from barcodes to TVam, feminism to Torvill and Dean, and Sloane Rangers to flying pickets. It's hard to see how this account could be bettered. (Andrew Marr)

McSmith has a sharp eye for a revealing story. (The Sunday Times)

(McSmith) presents his views and his recollections clearly, accurately and accessibly in a very readable, social document. (The Scotsman)

A fine account of the decade. (Independent on Sunday)

A rollicking read. (Metro) enjoyable romp through the decade. (The Spectator)

A rollicking read. (Metro East Midlands)

(McSmith) has crafted an entertaining popular history. (Spectator)

Splendid. (Independent)

Book Description

A brilliant new history of that most turbulent of decades: the 1980s.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 754 KB
  • Print Length: 401 pages
  • Publisher: Constable (16 Sept. 2010)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B004GGUG5S
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Not Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #187,245 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A nostalgic ride for Thatcher's children 6 Nov. 2012
Having read Dominic Sandbrook's various histories of Britain from 1956 to 1979, throughout which Margaret Thatcher plays an increasingly prominent role, I wanted to finish off the story (if history ever can reach an end) with a look at the 80s - her decade. Since Sandbrook hasn't yet written this book (and I don't know if he actually will), this seemed a good alternative. Andy McSmith has produced a highly entertaining whizz through Britain in the 80s - taking in culture and sport (amongst other things), but predominantly focused on politics. Margaret Thatcher is the star here and, as the title suggests, the author wants to look at her impact on society.

A photo included shows the author walking in the 1980s with Tony Benn and Billy Bragg, which does indicate he's a man of the left. However this book doesn't come to bury Thatcher, indeed it aims to be a more nuanced assessment of her failings and successes. His thesis is that we have now - with our current crisis of capitalism - reached a point where Thatcherism is coming to an end. All that trust in the free-market, in individualism, in greed is good, has evaporated into thin air. I'm not entirely sure that's true though. One of the interesting things about this world where success is privatised and failure is nationalised, is that there hasn't been a rise of old school socialism. Yes banker bashing is now a national sport, but even the Labour party remains rooted to the centre. The default position is unaltered: capitalism is still the way forward. And that hard-wired belief in the free market - no matter what happens - may be Margaret Thatcher's most potent legacy.

The fact that an entire decade is crammed into about three hundred and fifty pages means that this is a whistle-stop tour of the decade, which perhaps doesn't go into the depth that would be afforded in a bigger tome, but for those of us who can remember Britain in the 80s this is a nostalgic ride.
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54 of 59 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars No Such Thing as Society - Andy McSmith 26 Oct. 2010
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase

No such thing as society. Andy McSmith

This book, from Independent writer Andy McSmith, is designed to be a portrait of Britain (or to be more honest, England) in the 1980's. It is questionable whether it can be called a history as such, as, firstly, too many actors on the national stage at that time are still with us, and, secondly, as we are only now moving year by year to the release of official papers under the 30 year rule.

But as a portrait of a period still fresh in the mind of many, it is a useful volume. If, like me, you accept the theory of 'long wave' economic cycles driven by technological change, it shows how the 1980's, at home and across the globe, was a decade marked by the ebbing of the old economy and the growth of the new replacement.

In the UK such change was inevitable, but the pace of that change was still largely determined by human and institutional agencies. In the UK that mean only one person, one who stalks every chapter of this book, Margaret Thatcher. Like Lloyd George before she came into political life as a provincial outsider and walked largely alone. Like Lloyd George she too became a dynamic force for changem if not for the general good.

She remade the UK in a new image. She rode the surf of technological change with firm, but limited conviction. The very shape of the country has altered as a result, McSmith omits, oddly, the one appearance that above all, typified this - the iconic 'walk on the wasteland' where, handbagged and in unsuitable shoes, she strode over the ruins of a collapsed heavy engineering works that only a decade before was one of the largest suppliers of steel and iron making plant in the world.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful 16 Dec. 2011
For anyone old enough to have an adult memory of the 1980s, this book is a marvel, reminding us what an extraordinary decade we all lived through. Half forgotten memories are given fresh life as you turn the pages - and turn them you will, given the fast pace, the lovely writing and the way the material is organised. And then there is the stuff that passed you by - the details you missed at the time,or which have come to light since. Margaret Thatcher lambasting her home secretary over incompetence in the search for the Yorkshire Ripper and having to be dissuaded from racing up to Yorkshire to take personal charge of the investigation... as the author points out, this was in Hugo Young's biography of the Iron Lady, but how many readers will either come upon the anecdote for the first time, or have forgotten it?
Politics, pop, crime, counter-culture, economics, the miners' strike - this wonderful pocket history covers it all in one effortless read.
And for those too young to remember the 1980s, what an enviable way to learn. Entertaining, informative - Andy Marr is right, it is hard to think how this could be improved upon.
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25 of 28 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good journalism, but is it a history? 8 May 2011
"It's hard to see how this account could be bettered", says Andrew Marr on the cover of the `No Such Thing as Society'. Well, no, Andrew, I'm afraid it's not. Here are three ways in which it could have been improved.

First, and most seriously, his selection of material is totally lacking in discrimination. The first job of the historian is to select from the multitude of events those of genuine importance; McSmith seems more interested in trying to squeeze in as much of what happened as possible. Often the things that fall out are the more significant but less eye-catching. So, for example, the index references Westwood (Vivienne) but not Westland (Helicopters). Judging by the space allocated to each topic, anyone with no knowledge of the decade would assume that The Young Ones was as important as the miners' strike; the New Romantics as important as the Brixton Riots; and Live Aid probably more important than all of them. Perhaps a dedicated postmodernist would want to claim exactly that, but McSmith doesn't come across as a postmodernist, so I assume he was just being unselective.

Secondly, when he does cover a topic he summarises what happened well enough, but doesn't really offer much explanation of why it happened in the way it did. So, for example, to really understand the way that the Labour Party imploded in the first half of the decade, you need to go quite a long way back into the 1970s, and understand its changing relationship with the unions and other trends on the radical left. McSmith touches on this, but the 70s is a bit outside his remit. So you need to know a bit already about some of the topics covered before you can really get the best from this work.

Finally, there's not a great deal of new research on show.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A History Of An Unfortunate Outcome
McSmith's brilliant narrative account uncovers the truth behind the decade that changed Britain forever. Read more
Published 1 month ago by AMX
5.0 out of 5 stars fascinating and brilliant!
a fascinating analysis of and insight into a period of exceptional change
Published 4 months ago by R. K. Jacobson
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
should be compulsory reading
Published 12 months ago by mary hughes
5.0 out of 5 stars perfect all rounded picture
Paints a perfect all round picture of the 80's and Thatcher. I am studying A level history and doing my coursework on Maggie so this has been brilliant at enriching my knowledge... Read more
Published on 5 July 2013 by Daniel Brothers
5.0 out of 5 stars A colourful and thoughtful romp through the Thatcher years
The old joke is that if you remember the 1960s you can't have been there. For me this applies to the 1980s not as a joke but as a reality. Read more
Published on 12 May 2013 by P. S. Briggs
5.0 out of 5 stars An entertaining and informative read
More a primer, organised by particular topics, than a linear history, although Mrs. Thatcher's political trajectory from triumphant bringer of change to deposed leader is the... Read more
Published on 18 April 2013 by Guy
3.0 out of 5 stars Andy McSmith's 'No Such Thing as Society'
An emphatically left-wing view of the 1980s. Nevertheless packed with detail and worth the read, if you've already lived through the period as an adult, and are thus in a position... Read more
Published on 27 Feb. 2013 by D Hargreaves
1.0 out of 5 stars Too many inaccuracies for me
I browsed through a copy of this at a friend's house. The inaccuracies and spurious arguments, simply from a cursory glance, which I can remember include:

1. Read more
Published on 9 Dec. 2012 by Mr. Sd Ellis
5.0 out of 5 stars A Nostalgic Step Back To The Eighties.
This is an easy to read book of an eventful decade. Having grown up through it I must admit at the time I did not think that much of it. Read more
Published on 20 Nov. 2012 by Nicodemus
5.0 out of 5 stars A potted history and analysis of the Thatcher years
With 401 pages (341 if you exclude the notes and index) to cover more than a decade this was never going to be an in depth analysis of the Thatcher years. Read more
Published on 12 Aug. 2012 by curly_helmar
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