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Priestley's Wars (Rediscovering Priestley) [Hardcover]

Neil Hanson , Tom Priestley , Nicolas Hawkes
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Product details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Great Northern Books Ltd (Oct 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1905080360
  • ISBN-13: 978-1905080366
  • Product Dimensions: 24.6 x 15.4 x 3.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 81,023 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

The path that led me to become an author was a pretty rambling one. Along the highways, byways and frequent cul de sacs of a very chequered career, I've been a plasterer's mate, an ice-cream salesman, a holiday camp redcoat, an art gallery director, and simultaneously an art critic and a rugby commentator - now there's a combination you don't see every day. I've also been the editor of the drinker's bible, The Good Beer Guide, and the owner of the highest pub in Britain, and I've travelled round the world twice, edited an assortment of obscure magazines, made a couple of television films, been a radio broadcaster in Britain, Australia and New Zealand, and written for newspapers around the world.

However, the world's longest adolescence finally had to come to an end one day and since then I've been pretty much a full-time author with around 50 published books to my name so far. Under my own name I write narrative non-fiction - popular history, though the sales figures suggest it's not quite as popular as I'd like it to be. I'm not a member of what you might call "the David Starkey School" of history, I'm less interested in kings, queens, prime ministers and generals than I am in what happens to ordinary people caught up in great events. I don't like "winner's history" either; I want to know the view from all sides of a conflict or issue and I'm as interested - and sometimes more interested - in the aftermath of great events than I am in the events themselves. Some of the best stuff I've written (in my opinion at least) really catches fire at the point where most other historians leave off, and that's as true, I think, of my book about the Spanish Armada "The Confident Hope of a Miracle", "The Dreadful Judgement" about the Great Fire of London, and The Custom of the Sea, as it is of "The Unknown Soldier", my book about the Unknowns buried in Westminster Abbey and at national shrines in Paris, Washington and all over the world.

My day-job is as a ghostwriter: a writer of other people's books for them. Clients have included a treasure diver, a kidnap negotiator, an explorer, a spy, a long-distance walker, a submariner, an England football coach, a cricketing legend, a controversial historian, an undercover investigator, an IRA informer, several travellers and adventurers, two fast-jet pilots and half a dozen SAS men. At various times I've also written screenplays, thrillers, short stories, a serious novel, a playscript for a musical, travel journalism, and book reviews. The one thing missing from my portfolio is poetry and believe me, there's a very good reason for that...

If you can still cope with yet more of me boasting about myself, my website is:

and my facebook page is

and if you're still not sated, you can find the talk I gave about my book The Unknown Soldier at the Pritzker Military Library, Chicago at

Product Description


Soldier, writer, broadcaster and peace campaigner. This book tells the untold story of J B Priestley's role at the centre of British 20th century history.It is timed with the 90th anniversary of the end of WW1 and the 50th anniversary of the formation of CND.It provides a unique insight into the two world wars and the foundation of the CND movement through the eyes of one of the century's greatest writers.It contains previously un-published letters from the WW1 battlefields, and the 'Postscripts' broadcasts that Churchill tried to ban."I came out of [the 1914-1918 war] with a chip on my shoulder...probably some friend's thigh-bone."This major historical work by the acclaimed historian, Neil Hanson, traces the personal odyssey of one of Britain's greatest and best-loved literary figures, JB Priestley. This revealing book opens with Priestley as an enthusiastic volunteer in the First World War. Published here for the first time are the letters he wrote while serving on the Somme, which vividly evoke the full horrors of trench warfare and which also mark the start of a transformation that would ultimately make Priestley one of the most influential voices for peace and disarmament.In the inter-war years, Priestley became a hugely successful author, playwright and broadcaster, and in the early years of the Second World War, his 'Postscripts' radio broadcasts, immediately following Winston Churchill's addresses to the nation, attracted an audience of 16 million listeners.

However, Priestley's appeals to ensure that, this time, Britain's troops really should come home to a transformed land "fit for heroes" infuriated Churchill and the broadcasts were abruptly dropped. This book includes copies of the 'Postscripts' that have never previously been published and which shed light not only on Priestley social and political concerns but also on the growing tide of national feeling that swept the Labour Party to power after the war.In the 1950s, Priestley's journey from youthful soldier to passionate opponent of the horror of nuclear war was completed when he became one of the cofounders of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) launched with the famous London to Aldermaston march in 1958.Written with the full co-operation of JB Priestley's sons, Tom Priestley and Nicholas Hawkes, and beautifully illustrated, including images from the J B Priestley Archives, "Priestley's Wars" tells the full story of one of the literary giants of the 20th century, and his role in the military conflict and social change that defined the 'Great War to Cold War' era.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Some great reading, some padding 31 Dec 2009
Priestley is best-known as a playwright, so you may wonder what he knows about war. This book sets out his experience of war, serving the trenches of World War One, his wartime service in broadcasting between 1939 and 1945 and his attitude to war as set out in his journalism both between the wars and after 1945.

The first section on his experiences between 1914 and 1918 are especially evocative, and are based on letters and other written memoirs. It's six months since I read this book but I can still remember his descriptions of the training camps, the trenches but (most surprisingly), his surreal account of being posted to a French village behind the lines.

The section I really bought the book for was the `Postscripts', broadcast by the BBC between 1940 and 1941 at the end of the news once a week. These were a kind of "Thought of the Week", a reminder from a respected and eloquent figure on why the war was being fought. These are reproduced in full, the only place I have been able to find them. Having read Simon Garfield's excellent edited books of Mass Observation diaries ("We Are At War" and "Private Battles") it is notable that these were important to many people and made quite an impact. Unfortunately, as the book sets out, the biggest impact was with Churchill who did not like them at all. The point of disagreement was that Priestley wanted to set out Britain's "war aims", what type of society we wanted to see at the end of the war, something better than the 1930s (see Priestley's book "An English Journey" for an account of his travels around the country and the conditions he encountered).
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