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Seeking a Role: The United Kingdom 1951-1970 (New Oxford History of England) [Hardcover]

Brian Harrison
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

26 Mar 2009 New Oxford History of England
In this, the first of two self-standing volumes bringing The New Oxford History of England up to the present, Brian Harrison begins in 1951 with much of the empire intact and with Britain enjoying high prestige in Europe. The United Kingdom could still then claim to be a great power, whose welfare state exemplified compromise between Soviet planning and the USA>'s free market. When the volume ends in 1970, no such claims carried conviction. The empire had gone, central planning was in trouble, and even the British political system had become controversial.

In an unusually wide-ranging, yet impressively detailed volume, Harrison approaches the period from unfamiliar directions. He explains how British politicians in the 1950s and 1960s responded to this transition by pursuing successive roles for Britain: worldwide as champion of freedom, and in Europe as exemplar of parliamentary government, the multi-racial society, and economic planning. His main focus, though, rests not on the politicians but on the decisions the British people made largely for themselves: on their environment, social structure and attitudes, race relations, family patterns, economic framework, and cultural opportunities. By 1970 the consumer society had supplanted postwar austerity, the socialist vision was fading, and 'the sixties' (the theme of his penultimate chapter) had introduced new and even exotic themes and values. Having lost an empire, Britain was still resourcefully seeking a role: it had yet to find it.

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Seeking a Role: The United Kingdom 1951-1970 (New Oxford History of England) + Finding a Role?: The United Kingdom 1970-1990 (New Oxford History of England)
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Product details

  • Hardcover: 688 pages
  • Publisher: OUP Oxford (26 Mar 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0198204760
  • ISBN-13: 978-0198204763
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 16 x 4.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 623,905 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Review

there is a hugely impressive breadth of reference and eye for detail on display here. (Lawrence Black, Journal of Modern History, on Seeking a Role and Finding a Role?)

These two magisterial volumes... [ (Richard Whiting, History)

and

]... offer a consistently stimulating and formidably well-informed analysis of the condition of England since 1950, as it was shaped both by the wider world and its own internal development.

He provides a huge flow of information on almost all topics...all treated in fascinating detail. (Kenneth O.Morgan, Literary Review)

Harrison has a special gift which historians prize. He can turn the grains of history into fascinating and convincing patterns. (Peter Hennessy, Times Literary Supplement)

Full of surprising details and impressive insights. (Dominic Sandbrook, Sunday Times)

is not only vastly informative, but it is also a terrific read. (Peter Weiler, Twentieth Century British History)

A wonderfully readable summation of this crucial and endlessly fascinating period of Britain's recent past...a masterly account (Matthew Grant, Political Quarterly)

Magnificent if demanding history... all couched in an enviable prose style...the reader comes away from the text with a sense that he or she has learnt the history of a people, not just of its elite. (Neal Blewett, Australian Book Review)

About the Author

A sweeping assessment of British history... Comprehensive and thorough...the definitive starting point for any student or academic wishing to engage with this complex and fascinating period. (LIMINA: A Journal of Historical and Cultural Studies, on Seeking a Role and Finding a Role?)

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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Post war England 5 Jan 2012
By jpm
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Well written account of England's achievements and disappointments in the 1950s and 1960s. Important for anyone with a serious interest in British history in the 20th century
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Amazon.com: 5.0 out of 5 stars  2 reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars America's turn next? 9 Jun 2010
By D. P. Birkett - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book is a remarkable achievement, but maybe too remarkable. Six hundred plus pages about twenty years of British history is perhaps too much for the general reader.
From an American point of view the central interest of recent British history is whether it's our turn next. Britain sank from world power. Will America do the same? Was the crash in power after World War Two due to trying to hang on to the Empire or to being too much Mr. Nice Guy and giving it away, due to socialism, due to excessive military expenditure, the Suez campaign, too much traditionalism, the cost of the war, American dominance, Keynesian economics, too much government planning, bad planning, laziness, welfare mentality or all of the above?
These problems are addressed, especially in Chapter 6 but there's such a lot of other stuff it gets buried. A.N. Wilson's "After the Victorians" gives his opinions in a way more biased but more readable.
The social history is fun but the material about the Beatles and Carnaby Street and Beyond the Fringe etc is easier to read elsewhere, such as Humphrey Carpenter's "Great Big Silly Grin." (Harrison seems a little confused about menstrual hygiene. Surely Virginia Woolf was not making herself tampons).
Science in general is short-changed. He tells us a great deal about academic achievements at Oxford, where he teaches history but nothing about the unique place of Faraday House, which trained Geoffrey Hounsfield who produced the first CAT scan picture in 1971. There is nothing about the education of Peter Mansfield via a secondary modern school, the army and Queen Mary College. that culminated in the first MRI picture being produced at Nottingham University. The decipherment of the genetic code is not mentioned. The only Watson in the index is the editor of Vegan News
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars 31 Aug 2014
By Martin D. Beresford - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Absolutely outstanding!
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