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No Such Thing as Society: A History of Britain in the 1980s Paperback – 16 Sep 2010


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Product details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Constable; First Edition edition (16 Sept. 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1849010099
  • ISBN-13: 978-1849010092
  • Product Dimensions: 15.7 x 2.4 x 23.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 602,273 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

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

Book Description

A highly praised new history of that most turbulent of decades: the 1980s. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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53 of 57 people found the following review helpful By WALSHY on 26 Oct. 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Review.

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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25 of 28 people found the following review helpful By modern life is rubbish on 8 May 2011
Format: Paperback
"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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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Neutral VINE VOICE on 28 Aug. 2011
Format: Paperback
Politicians and journalists love sound bites. Even when they're incorrectly quoted, or taken out of context, they provide political ammunition. Harold Wilson's "the pound in your pocket" haunted him although Wilson's actual phrasing was different. Similarly McSmith takes Thatcher's words out of context and edits them to support his characterisation of Thatcherism, "that in order to maximise economic efficiency, it was necessary to destroy many of the social ties that kept people in interdependency." He cites Thatcher as saying, "the quality of our lives will depend upon how much each of us is prepared to take responsibility for ourselves" but removed the rest of the sentence which read, " and each of us prepared to turn round and help by our own efforts those who are unfortunate." Thus, "No such thing as society" was a re-statement of nineteenth century liberal individualism rather than the "let them eat cake" message implied by McSmith.

McSmith claims that "after ten years of upheaval and bewildering change, the British decided that they would rather there was such a thing as society and turned to less driven, more conciliatory leaders, who did not alarm them with that kind of thought." They did no such thing. It was sections of the Conservative Party which forced Thatcher from office not the British people.The essence of Thatcher's complaint was that some people believed the world owed them a living and made no attempt to earn a living themselves. Twenty years later the coalition government is grappling with the same problem of changing the culture of welfare dependency which remains an obstacle to self-help, enterprise and the reduction of the public debt.
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