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Thatcher's Britain: The Politics and Social Upheaval of the Thatcher Era [Hardcover]

Richard Vinen
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)

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Book Description

20 April 2009
It will, in May 2009, be thirty years since Margaret Thatcher entered Downing Street. Thatcher was the longest serving prime minister of the twentieth-century and her period in government coincided with extraordinary changes in British society and in Britain's place in the world. Thatcher's image permeates, not just discussion of recent British history, but also films and novels -- there has even been a musical based on her career. Curiously, the emphasis on Thatcher as a kind of cultural icon has often gone with a declining interest in the details of what her government did. This book tells the story of Thatcherism for a generation with no personal memories of the 1980s -- as well as for those who want to revisit the polemics of their youth. It aims to describe Thatcherism in a way that is both detached and engaging. Most of all, it seeks to rescue Margaret Thatcher from being seen as John the Baptist for Tony Blair. It stresses that Thatcherism was not a timeless phenomenon that can be traced back into the nineteenth century or transported forward into the twenty-first.It was rooted in the 1970s and 1980s -- a time when the Soviet empire seemed to be expanding and when the British economy seemed to be on its deathbed. Anyone who wants a flavour of the times should recall that Margaret Thatcher received her first ever letter from Ronald Reagan on the day that Saigon fell to the Viet Cong.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Ltd; First Edition edition (20 April 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1847371752
  • ISBN-13: 978-1847371751
  • Product Dimensions: 16.2 x 24.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 368,810 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


`This witty, timely reassessment, very much designed to clear the ground of clichés, takes a laser to many myths' -- Independent

About the Author

Richard Vinen teaches history at King's College London. His most recent books are A History in Fragments: Europe in the Twentieth Century and The Unfree French: Life under the Occupation. He reviews regularly for the Independent and the Times Literary Supplement. He has also served as historical consultant for the Sun's book of the millenium -- Hold Ye Front Page.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
30 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thoroughly engaging read 31 May 2009
By J. Bell
I really enjoyed this book. As a Thatcher loather I thought it was about time I took a more objective view of her place in our lives and this book has helped me do just that in a broad and intelligent way (a biography would still be too much to stomach). I was in my twenties in the eighties, politically despairing and never really thought about the wider context or cared about how she had got to be where she was. This book has helped me understand the phenomena and made me more objectively alert to the impact that she is still having. I recommend it to anyone who wants to be made to reflect on Thatcher in an accessible and highly readable way.
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Only partly satisfying 30 July 2009
This is a good book on the nature of, and tensions within, Thatcher's political theories and key policies. It is not very helpful in describing 'Thatcher's Britain' in the wider sense of cultural, social and political developments in the 80s. It is also much more detailed and interesting on her economic policies and influences (her neo-liberalism) than it is on her social policy agenda (her neo-conservatism).

I don't think it's the most impressive introductory text on Thatcherism/Thatcher's Britain. It's the kind of book to come to after reading other books on the 1980s and on Thatcher herself. It felt a little patchy and unsatisfying, though Vinen's remarks about the internal inconsistencies within Thatherism and the difference between Thatcher's tough rhetoric and her often more cautious politics are interesting, incisive and nuanced. These are important points to make and distinguish this book from the all-to-often 'black & white' textbook accounts of Thatcherism.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Real historical analysis 3 Jun 2009
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I had the pleasure of meeting Professor Vinen some many years ago. Well known for some excellent work on French and European modern history. This move into the recent UK is most welcome. Readers should do one thing and ignore the title - I fully agree with the Sunday Times review (well worth reading) of some months ago - a badly chosen title - the book is about Lady Thatcher and the political environment she was in, much more so than the social or economic that might be guessed from the title. Some lovely stories add a richness to the narrative - I was struck by the analysis of Enoch Powell, for instance.

I think this is an excellent analysis, one of the few on the topic, by a high quality professional historian, without the usual political bias of the contemporay. It would be interesting to get Professor Vinen's insights on our current dilemas.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
A highly intelligent, humorous and accessible book which challenges several widely held historical orthodoxies and misconceptions about Thatcher. This book is ideal as an introduction to the Thatcher era for students, and is a sparkling contribution to the existing literature on the woman who defined 80s Britain.

Particularly impressive is the nuanced perspective Vinen provides on the contradictions in Macmillan's politics, on Thatcher's views on education and his brave point that Thatcher's gender actually worked to her advantage by the time she entered parliament. The book deals delicately with the oft- hashed case of the miners' strike and sheds new light on Thatcher's fall from power. Its attention to detail with regard the characters who surrounded Thatcher while she was in power, the centrality of journalism to Thatcher's reputation and the effect unemployment had on the British nation during Thatcher's premiership is breathtaking. It is political history at its best.

In its intellectual sensitivity, honesty and non-partisan approach, this salient and sophisticated account surpasses recent contributions to the Thatcher debate. It has already become a central text for all British history students, and sets an extremely high standard for future accounts on Thatcher.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars New perspective on Thatcher long overdue 30 May 2009
Professor Vinen's book was a revelation - there are plenty of books out there which simply re-state what Thatcher did, with the usual `The Iron Lady was a Goddess/she was the Devil Incarnate' slant. But Thatcher's Britain really got to the root of what made the country go the way it did, and why. The author also really captures why people either love or hate Thatcher.

If you want a Thatcher biography, this isn't it. But if you want to understand Thatcher and why her premiership went the way it did, with its highs and its lows, then I can't recommend this book enough. What we get is a sense of perspective. Now that the time is ripe for reassessments, I suspect its judgments will last.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
I have always been fascinated by the political changes that occurred in the eighties and Margaret Thatcher's role in them. This book provides a rare neutral look at Thatcherism that neither glorifies its success nor belittles its flaws. Richard Vinen analyses Margaret Thatcher's role in British politics and the effects that Thatcherism had on Britain and the British public as well as the wider world. In particular there are detailed chapters on the two defining events of the Thatcher government; the Falklands war and the miners strike. The conflicting arguments in these events are both analysed and presented fairly for the reader to make their own conclusions. Vinen skilfully presents his argument that Thatcherism was of its time and adapted to changing circumstances, by showing the changes in thatcherite policy which occurred in response to the Thatcher government's victories and defeats.
All in all, any one interested in Thatcherism, whether born before or after the Thatcher government, will find this book thought-provoking and a fair appraisal of thatcherite policy. As well as an interesting look at one of the most iconic and divisive figures in political history.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent analysis of paradoxes and contradictions of Thatcher and...
This book is not about Thatcher the person but Thatcher the project. But the word ‘project’ implies a coherence of aim and method that Thatcherism did not have. Read more
Published 6 months ago by F Henwood
3.0 out of 5 stars hegemony in light relief.
Richard Vinen'sbook is an entertaining enough canter through the Thatcher myth. Early on he makes some pertinent revisions to the conventional views of the post war consensus and... Read more
Published on 25 May 2012 by Archie B. Manvell
3.0 out of 5 stars Hegemony in light relief.
Richard Vinen's book is an entertaining enough canter through the Thatcher myth. Early on he makes some pertinent revisions to the conventional views of the post-war consensus and... Read more
Published on 20 May 2012 by Archie B. Manvell
2.0 out of 5 stars Buy it only if you know the facts well
How can a history book contain nothing about history (hint: it is called political history...)? This is merely a book that tries to characterise MT's politics, opinions,... Read more
Published on 9 Feb 2012 by papajohn
4.0 out of 5 stars Politics- not social History- but thats ok
Richard Vinen might have regretted the title of his book since this book has little on the social History of the 1980s (for that read the excellent Rejoice! Rejoice! Read more
Published on 27 Aug 2011 by DN PERKS
1.0 out of 5 stars Incomplete
he does quite a fair 2-sided challenging of perceptions for the earlier period - for the 70s background and Thatcher's first term. Read more
Published on 22 Oct 2009 by maurice frank
4.0 out of 5 stars A very good insight into Thatcher's Britain
I really enjoyed this book. It is well written and strikes a good balance between the political, social, and economic aspects of Thatcher's premiership. Read more
Published on 19 Jun 2009 by Chris Warne
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent
I thought this was an excellent and insightful book. Its narrative on the Thaturite era was both interesting and compelling. Read more
Published on 2 Jun 2009 by Mr. M. C. Bishop
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