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The Perfect Summer: Dancing into Shadow in 1911 Paperback – 12 Jul 2007

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Product details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: John Murray (12 July 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0719562430
  • ISBN-13: 978-0719562433
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 2.2 x 19.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 123,937 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

'An accomplished and engaging piece of social history' (Daily Telegraph)

'[Nicolson] sweeps across voices and classes to assemble a mosaic of sunlit impressions' (Independent: Boyd Tonkin)

Listed as number three of six in the 'Bookseller's Chart' by Phoebe Bentick of Henry Stokes & Co. (The Times)

'With the gifts of a great storyteller, [Nicolson] rekindles a vision of a time when the sun shone, but cast long shadows.' (Waterstone's Books Quarterly)

"Nicolson on swimwear from Victorian times through Brigitte Bardot to today. " (The Spectator)

'Juliet Nicolson has taken this "perfect summer" as the backdrop for an ambitious work of multiple biography, which sets the extravagance of the upper classes against the increasingly desperate lives of the poor.' (Observer)

'I wanted to evoke the full vivid richness of how it smelt, looked, sounded, tasted and felt to be alive in England during the months of such a summer' (The Lady)

'Juliet Nicolson does not pretend to offer a close political analysis, but rather a thoroughly entertaining portrait of the period, full of memorable detail' (The Spectator)

'There is an unpretentious directness about Nicolson's approach to her subjects that gives the book a freshness and vitality. Happily, she also has an eye for the amusing or the ironic.' (The Scotsman, Rachel Billington)

'A fascinating read... I did indeed feel transported' (Mail on Sunday: Antonia Fraser)

'Hugely interesting... It's also - and this is a compliment - as page-turning as a novel' (Guardian Holiday Read Choice: Joanna Trollope)

'Nicolson writes with grace and humour' (Guardian Holiday Read Choice: Antonia Fraser)

'A charming mix of gossip column, commonplace book and popular history, sure to delight readers for many summers to come.' (International Express: Michael Arditti)

'Elegant and witty ... an enjoyable read without pretensions from a rather well-connected writer' (Jad Adams, Sunday Telegraph / Seven)

'Nicolson conjures a moment when the unchanged rituals of English existence began to collide with modern life' (Olivia Laing, Observer)

'She cuts a slice through Edwardian life at the end of the Edwardian age to create a richly atmospheric read' (Kate Chisholm, Daily Mail)

'Nicolson has pulled together many strands in a graceful evocation of one particularly long summer' (Evening Standard)

'Entertaining and informative, it's packed with unforgettable characters and vivid descriptions' (Sainsbury's Magazine)

'This is a peach of a book. It is full of good things, sparkling, elegant and often funny' (Jane Ridley, Literary Review)

'Society history written with skill, a sharp eye and a sense of humour' (TLS, Susie Harries)

'A clever, insightful and ultimately moving account' (BBC History)

'A tiny chapter of English history ... a perfect lightness of touch' (Katie Law, Evening Standard)

'Elegantly poignant ... Nicolson has an eye for prescient anecdotes' (Ruth Scurr,The Times)

A wonderfully evocative portrait of english society on the brink of a new world order. Full of brilliant vignettes of the people and the pleasures that distracted them. Juliet Nicolson has invented a new kind of social history. (Tina Brown)

'Rich and marvellously researched' (Barry Humphries)

'A cleverly crafted story of the hot, frenetic summer of 1911 which works because of the sparkling writing' (Jane Ridley, Literary Review)

Book Description

The enchanting and absorbing story of a remarkable season; defining a world on the cusp of irrevocable change

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Adrenalin Streams on 18 April 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Juliet Nicholson has almost perfectly captured the end of an era. The Summer of 1911 finds a Britain showing signs of social change in a world where her economic and military supremacy was also starting to be questioned and challenged. And yet, three years before the war that would definitively alter everything, we can still experience the dripping opulence of the aristocracy and upper middle classes; their extreme wealth, exceptional education, carefree extravagance and suffocating boredom. Although the book cleverly picks up the stories of several dozen important characters from the time, from all classes, it is the depiction of the privileged classes, including the politicians, that leaves the greatest impression on the reader. The author must have carried out an enormous amount of research and read prodigious quantities of diary and newspaper material to be able to write a book so densely packed with factual information. That is its strength and, almost, its weakness. Reading this book is a bit like eating a very rich slice of chocolate cake; gorgeous but almost too filling. That is a small criticism however, because overall the book brilliantly succeeds in depicting, intricately, a Britain at the apogee of Empire; a place where, if you had money and status, the real world hardly troubled you at all. And yet, with that money and status came a set of almost stifling social rules and regulations that makes me little envious of the lives depicted. Juliet Nicholson has produced a well written book that is acutely observed and that makes a valuable contribution to our knowledge of British social history in the early years of the 20th century.
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55 of 59 people found the following review helpful By FM on 31 July 2007
Format: Paperback
This is a fascinating, highly readable and wonderfully written book which takes you back to the year 1911 through the lives of some of the most prominent and interesting characters of the time. They range from Lady Diana Manners "the most beautiful young woman in England in 1911" to Lord Curzon, ex viceroy of England; from feisty union leader Mary Macarthur to cynical butler Eric Horne. The book truly succeeds in recreating the atmosphere of the time without indulging in futile nostalgia (in fact, it delves quite deeply into the social turmoil of the period) and it offers the same fast pace and intensity of a good novel while being based on "real" people and events.

When I read it, I was unaware that Juliet Nicolson was the granddaughter of Vita Sackville-West and was therefore completely unbiased in my appreciation of the work. I kept, however, noticing a certain intimate feeling affecting the narration, as if the author had had a first-hand, personal experience of the times. In retrospect, her family heritage might have helped her in powerfully recreating the mood of the time. The book also appears to be in some form of dialogue with Sackville-West's The Ewardians, a novel which ends in 1911with the coronation of George V, precisely when Nicolson begins her Perfect Summer (which, incidentally, appears to be everything but perfect). It would be a good idea to read the two novels together.
If I had to find a fault, I would probably say that, at times, the huge amount of citations (which are, of course, also valuable and necessary) seem to "smother" the narration a bit. Nicolson should certainly have believed more in her own voice.
In spite of this, it is a great read.
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50 of 57 people found the following review helpful By M. Williams on 6 July 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I've often felt that the freakishly hot summer of 1911 would make a wonderful subject for a writer or film-maker - quite apart from the extreme heat, this was also a period marked by extraordinary social, political and cultural ferment. So I approached this book with a larger than average degree of interest - which was not, at the conclusion, totally satisfied.

Whilst the story of those sun-drenched months could never make for boring reading, Nicholson tries a little too hard to cover a vast and unwieldy terrain - the result is a somewhat breathless and light-weight book, containing several historical inaccuracies. In particular, I question her habit of relating the eccentricities of the few to the practices of the majority; how many Edwardian matrons really had pierced nipples? Not many, I'd venture!

The main value and interest of 'The Perfect Summer' lies in the provision of delightful and idiosyncratic details of parties and amusements (not just for 'Society' but for all classes) garnered from the contemporary press and gossip columns. On this level, I'd say that it makes a pleasant enough companion for hours on the beach or in a sunny garden. 'Serious' historians, though, are probably better advised to steer clear.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Mrs. V. Bradley TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 28 Feb. 2009
Format: Paperback
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Before reading it I must confess I knew little about the year 1911. So much history was made in that year from unseasonally. and at times unbearably, hot weather to strikes and job losses to upper class enjoyment and indulgence on a grand scale. Although the book is a factual account it is so well written that it reads more like a novel. An added interest for me, as a family historian researching my family history, was the fact that since I read the book the 1911 Census is now available on line.
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