on 5 April 2010
Juliet Gardiner's work is a heavyweight in every sense, but the strain on the arms is well worth the effort. Her book is rightly sub-titled an intimate study for that is precisely what it is. We often tend to view the Thirties as little more than a dull prelude to the following decade but Ms Gardiner's work takes us into territory that is usually glossed over because we all know what happened next. Because of its length many may find this a daunting book but Ms Gardiner shares with many contemporary historians an easy facility with words and the text flows smoothly and the sheer volume of the work ceases to be a deterrent if it ever was. For this reader there was a pleasing absence of polemic - the author does not, as so many are wont to do, seek to take sides and and treats such emotive issues as re-armament and the Spanish Civil War as phenomena to be explained rather than preached. After reading the book I was not only better informed but also felt much wiser.
on 6 July 2010
I really enjoy a big fat history book and I really enjoyed this one! From the beautiful enigmatic picture on the front jacket (I want to be that woman) to the satifying length of the text, everything was a delight.
Although the Thirties is not really a "forgotten" decade, it does rather get missed out between both World Wars other than some kind of sunlit uplands where everyone wore beautiful clothes and looked and danced like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers or was downtrodden and poor like the Jarrow Marchers. Both extremes are examined here as well as everyday life for the majority of people and very interesting it is too.
I love Juliet Gardiner's books and look forward to the next one!
on 22 March 2010
I brought it as a present for my mother, who is from that era, she found it a fascinating review and one that brought back good and bad memories of a different England, whilst also providing an insight into events that happened, but which she only remembered one aspect of. This is the advantage of waiting a few decades before trying to encapsulate an era or trying to give a rounded view of events, you can more fully judge and give an overview based on multiple inputs. With a tongue slightly in the cheek she reported that it was heavier than she might have liked for bedtime reading, perhaps I should have waited for it to come out in paperback?
The 1930s, as Juliet Gardiner notes in the preface to her book, is not a well-regarded decade in British history, traditionally being perceived as a miserable time of unemployment at home and indifference to the growing evil abroad. In recent years, however, some have argued for a reinterpretation of the period, pointing out that it was also one in which a modern consumer society emerged in Britain, as the middle class enjoyed increasing affluence and access to goods. One of the great achievements of Gardiner's book is her holistic presentation of the decade, which incorporates both interpretations as a means of exploring the complexities and struggles of those years.
In examining the decade, Gardiner offers a chronological narrative that takes the reader through its many developments. Her approach is to use dramatic events of the period as a springboard for a broader examination of thematic issues; while this approach occasionally results in some repetitiveness, she nonetheless pulls it off with considerable skill. Moreover, no matter how expansive her focus is she never loses sight of the individual, primarily because she draws heavily from the writings and recollections of the people who lived through the decade, stitching together numerous accounts to show how they perceived and reacted to the times in which they lived. In doing so, she justifies her subtitle, successfully presenting an account that manages to be comprehensive while at the same time conveying the personal experiences of those who lived through the decade.
Overall, Gardiner succeeds in providing an engrossing and informative history of a tumultuous time. With chapters that address various political, social, religious, and cultural issues, there is little that escapes her notice, while her inclusion of events across the British Isles is a welcome change from the English-centric focus of all too many histories of the period. All of this makes for a insightful and readable account of the 1930s, one that captures in full the drama, achievements, and tragedy of the decade.
on 31 March 2015
I found the book hugely interesting and informative. Similar to Piers Brenden's impressive examination of the period in The Dark Valley but this concentrates more on Britain during the 1930s than Europe, America or Asia, which Brenden's book does. I agree that it's lengthy but in my view the period deserves an in-depth examination and for that on its own merit, it does that wonderfully.
One small complaint the electronic version has no photographs from period. The paperback certainly does so I can't see why the e book doesn't have any. There are some amazing photos from era that would have given e book another dimension too it.
on 25 September 2011
This is a book that I had wanted to read since it was first published in hardback but, with other priorities interfering, I only got round to buying a copy in paperback a couple of weeks ago. The small plus is that I saved myself a `few bob'. The much greater minus comes from being denied until now the enjoyment of a well-written and impressively researched work, illustrating a decade that we routinely recognise as the time of the Jarrow hunger march; the abdication; appeasement; Munich and, during its closing months, the declaration of war against Germany. Of course, all these events are covered in some detail, but Ms Gardiner gives us so much more too.
The book begins in hauntingly sad vein with the Glen cinema disaster in Paisley that claimed the lives of seventy-one children on the last day of 1929. It was a horrible start to the new decade for the town where the effects of the depression were being severely felt, just as they were in other parts of West Scotland, Wales and various industrial locations in England. Ms Gardiner goes on to detail the indignities suffered by the increasingly large numbers of unemployed and also how those in work found themselves subject to the constraints of a low-wage economy. As the book progresses the reader may well find it hard to stem a rising sense of disbelief at the callous decisions made by some of those in power - at parliamentary and local level - when dealing with increasing numbers of the poor. The sheer poverty involved and the ungenerous attitude of the state toward giving financial relief is thoroughly reported but one personal illustration stuck in my mind: A new mother in an unemployed household stated that when their baby was born she and her husband borrowed a mattress from neighbours and spread newspapers on it. She used to feed the baby on a bottle of warm water and put the baby to bed in a drawer. Nappies were made from newspaper. But, when she appeared before the Public Assistance Committee and was asked if the baby was being breast fed, she made the mistake of saying yes. As a result, the committee promptly cut a proportion of the allowance the couple received for their child. - Such small snippets of first-hand testimony can say more than an entire chapter. I expect everyone who reads this book will find some comment or recollection that similarly stays with them.
Throughout, the book illustrates events by using the various voices of individuals who experienced life during the decade, from the poorest upwards through the social scale. The hunger marches are well covered, (I had no idea of how many marches there were - the media these days tend only to mention the Jarrow march), and there is a fascinating look at those lucky enough to be able to leave the slums and afford the rent to live on some of the new council housing estates being built at the time. - Unfortunately, there were also many who could not afford the move. In addition, it was interesting to read of the efforts made by builders and building societies to persuade families, many just a fraction better-off financially, that they could achieve the dream of owner-occupation. For some the dream had an unhappy ending, but it was this aspiration to home ownership that gave birth to many of the suburbs with which we are now so familiar.
I have given here only a passing glimpse of what can be found in the book. (The paperback version runs to 766 pages, excluding photographs, bibliography and index).The full list of subjects covered is astounding. There is an impressive section on the British people's reaction to - and in many cases action in - the Spanish Civil War. Many regarded affairs in Spain as foreshadowing the `big one' they knew, in their heart of hearts, would be coming one day. Indeed, as I have already mentioned, all the major events of the decade are here. But what I found perhaps more interesting were the sections dealing with the more commonplace and personal occurrences in people's lives.
Leisure pursuits; the fight for paid holidays; the annual seaside vacation with the guesthouse landlady; the holiday camp; the pub - all have their place here. As does the growth of the' Health and Fitness' mentality and the popularity of the lido. Cinema attendance and radio listening habits are examined and much more. In short, you think of it and the odds are that it is covered to a greater or lesser extent somewhere in this book.
I was left with the impression that people in general during the thirties - some as a result of their own harsh lives, others through hearing with foreboding what was happening in Europe - were much more politically aware than we as a nation are today. What surprised me though was to see the parallels, albeit in diluted form, of those times with today. Here we are teetering on the brink of another depression; politicians as a group are about as ineffectual as ever and, yet again, the great British public has to bear the burden of the desperate attempt to nurture health back into our economy.
Ms Gardiner has marshalled the vast amount of source material used for the `The Thirties' to great effect, resulting in a well organised series of chapters producing an easy to read book that deserves recognition as the definitive popular account of the decade
on 11 March 2010
The poet W H Auden called it a 'low, dishonest decade'; others described it variously as 'the devil's decade', 'a dark tunnel', 'the locust years' and a 'morbid age' but as Juliet Gardiner impressively demonstrates in this monumental study the Thirties were much more complex. Certainly it was a decade blighted by high unemployment and abject poverty in many areas, particularly in the industrial regions of the North of England, Wales and Scotland. Certainly, too, political appeasement threatened to have fatal consequences. But some of Britain, especially in the South East and the Midlands, was, to quote the author, 'largely unaffected by the 'Great Depression', where the symbols of prosperity were the growth of home ownership, new light industries, a consumer society'. Ms Gardiner's survey ranges far and wide, embracing as it does a multitude of social, economic, political and moral subjects, some of which (such as the gap between the rich and the poor) continue to resonate to this day. This is a long book that extends to nearly 1,000 pages and is, perhaps, almost too detailed in places, but no one interested in Britain of the period should fail to find it instructive,cautionary and eminently readable. The subtitle, 'Britain's Forgotten Decade - An Intimate History', sums it up admirably because while the author's sweep is broad she does, indeed, convey a rare intimacy founded upon her humane depiction of the lives of ordinary people.
on 3 August 2012
The wording on the front didn't encourage me. 'Britain's Forgotten Decade'. Compared to the 1230s, maybe, or the 1730s? I would have thought that the 1930s were pretty well known to anyone with an interest/knowledge in British history. Nor does the author give any reason for this phrase and nor is there any real introduction about the book, where its going and why it is different. Clearly the 1930s aren't forgotten, going by the large bibliography of published sources the author lists. So why the sub-title?
The book discusses all the major events of the decade; unemployment, prosperity, appeasement, political and royal crises and so forth, as one would expect. It also covers social history; marraige and family, entertainment, leisure. Some aspects of the period aren't touched upon, such as crime.There's several pages on the Left Wing Book Club but none on popular fiction by best selling authors such as Agatha Christie, Sapper, P.G. Wodehouse and so on. There's some repetition and also, though this isn't a polemic, evidence of authorial bias - and repetitive, too. Although the diary of Mr Godlett (properly spelt Goodlet) is listed as a source, regrettably it doesn't seem to have been used, which is a great shame as he was an avid commentator on politics and international affairs.
The book ends with the declaration of war in September 1939, but as it began, it does so without any conclusion, analysis or comments.
This sounds like a sour review, but I don't want to deny that the author has done a great deal of research and writing on the book and its very detailed on many issues of the 1930s.I just feel it could have been rather better. So I think its not bad, but hardly a masterpiece.
on 19 September 2010
I felt like Gardiner's book was about as close to a time machine trip to the Thirties as I'm likely to get by means of words on a page. It does for its period what Kynaston's Austerity Britain 1945-1951 does for its time. I could get by for quite a while reading favorite books from the Thirties (things by Tolkien, Waugh, Orwell, Peter Fleming, John Buchan, and more), and I'm sure my enjoyment of those books, when I reread them, will be enhanced by having read Gardiner's. I mean to begin reading her book Wartime immediately. Thank you, Juliet Gardiner, for giving us such an interesting panoramic read.
on 28 January 2011
A heavy book that makes your arms get cold if reading in bed during the cold dark nights. Every page draws you on into this fascinating insight of the 1930s - the decade my mother was born and grew up. So many of my pre-conceptions have been blown away by this voyage through an era that bears so many resemblances to the problems that we face now. I was fascinated by the fact that so many people were so concerned with similar things that we are today. It illustrates how we really learn nothing. Each historical episode is explained in detail in an objective way. A joy to read and experience.