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Modernity Britain: Book One: Opening the Box, 1957-1959 (Modernity Britain Series) [Kindle Edition]

David Kynaston
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (50 customer reviews)

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Book Description

The late 1950s was an action-packed, often dramatic time in which the contours of modern Britain began to take shape. These were the 'never had it so good' years, when the Carry On film series and the TV soap Emergency Ward 10 got going, and films like Room at the Top and plays like A Taste of Honey brought the working class to the centre of the national frame; when the urban skyline began irresistibly to go high-rise; when CND galvanised the progressive middle class; when 'youth' emerged as a cultural force; when the Notting Hill riots made race and immigration an inescapable reality; and when 'meritocracy' became the buzz word of the day. The consequences of this 'modernity' zeitgeist, David Kynaston argues, still affect us today.

Books In This Series (2 Books)
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    Volumes full of treasure, serious history with a human face (Hilary Mantel, Observer, Summer Reads)

    The most ambitious and the most diligent ... These lists are sometimes so extensive and artfully arranged that they acquire a kind of lyrical beauty in their own right ... The guiding principle of this method is not postmodern relativism but a generous and open-minded inclusiveness ... As a rule, Kynaston shows enormous self-restraint: he assembles and presents his material with such studied neutrality that it's not obvious, at first, where his own loyalties lie ... If Kynaston's Tales of a New Jerusalem helps us to do that - if it succeeds in its objective of showing us, on a scale both panoramic and intimate, exactly what the postwar governments struggled to build, and which Thatcher, just as determinedly, sought to dismantle - then it will surely come to be seen not just as one of the present era's most important histories, but as one of the most illuminating works of literature (Jonathan Coe, Prospect)

    David Kynaston's brilliant and witty chronicle of post-war Britain shows why he's The Past Master ... As wonderfully quick-witted and wide-ranging as its predecessors ... Kynaston peppers his book with these illuminating little vignettes ... I was struck by how skilfully he weaves it all together, beautifully intertwining anecdotes and observations with sparkling details and fascinating statistics ... Modernity Britain is both even-handed and exhilarating, a rare combination. Kynaston's sympathies are, broadly speaking, with the underdog, but he is wary of certainties, distrustful of the pat remedy. When he expresses overt opinions, they are always thoughtful, and arrive like thunder-flashes, illuminating the pages around them ... Was ever a history book so authoritative and, at the same time, quite so entertaining? Kynaston is particularly brilliant at filleting contemporary books, newspapers, comedy scripts, advertisement, films, political speeches, etc, for the telling quotation (Craig Brown, Mail on Sunday)

    Kynaston's many fans will be pleased to hear that Modernity Britain has all the virtues of his previous volumes ... Kynaston has an unrivalled eye for long-forgotten, apparently banal and yet weirdly suggestive anecdotes ... Above all, Kynaston is a historian of tremendous compassion ... Perhaps the most moving section of Kynaston's splendid book, though, is his discussion of British schools in the late 1950s (Dominic Sandbrook, The Times)

    The entertainment flies off the pages. The Kynaston method of compiling a vast array of sources and applying them with equal zest to the momentous ... and the ephemeral ... guarantees a rattling read. This is social, cultural and political history, more or less in that order, with a smile on its face ... Mostly he launches bombardments of facts, quotes, stories and numbers interspersed with pithy and shrewd editorial observations. He more than gets away with it ... There are brilliant passages throughout about the dispersion of inner-city tenant dwellers ... Kynaston specialises in fair-mindedness and nuance ... Much of the sheer and abundant joy of this book are its serendipity ... Hundreds of other wonders and absurdities captured and recreated for our enlightenment and entertainment (New Statesman)

    From high-rise flats to the Carry On films, here are the never-had-it-so-good years brought vividly to life by a historian whose extraordinary appetite for research seems to know bounds (Rachel Cooke, Observer)

    Kynaston is a wonderful writer and his technique of creating a collage of diary extracts, newspaper commentaries and personal reminiscences, interspersed with historical description, acts to subtly disguise the force of his own analysis (The Times Book of the Week)

    The narrative is beautifully composed and Kynaston digs deeper than previous historians ... One of the great virtues of Kynaston's approach is the juxtaposition of political rhetoric and social reality (Literary Review)

    Kynaston is the most readable and original social historian writing today and I've barely scratched the surface of what his latest compulsive book includes. Buy it (Daily Express)

    His forte is a beguiling use of social insights, often on an intimate domestic scale, to establish a sense of period and to open windows on the recent past (Peter Clarke, Financial Times)

    David Kynaston resembles a novelist impersonating a historian. His books read like fiction disguised as documentary ... His method evokes the sumptuous messiness of human experience. He depicts history as an unfolding, ill-managed pageant ... His books so enriching, improving and endearing ... Shrewd, funny and ever-readable ... In Kynaston's history books, the reader can hear the people speak. He has an elocutionist's sense of people's diction (Guardian)

    Artful deployment of different voices and sources vividly evokes a time when benighted extremes of snobbery and hate-speech coexisted with increasing working-class confidence (Observer)

    Kynaston is a historian who likes to get out of the way. You seldom read a decisive judgment or a grand-sweeping generalisation. Rather, he rummages in the attic and pulls a whole clattering cavalcade of interesting junk down on himself ... Among his many virtues are his thoroughness and attention to detail (Sam Leith, Spectator)

    Superb ... Modernity Britain is an outstanding book, a delightful and often funny mix of the profound and the mundane that presents an enormously instructive glimpse into a time when supermarkets, Carry On films and Galaxy bars were cutting edge ... Kynaston possesses unique sensitivity to their meaning (Sunday Telegraph)

    Wholly absorbing work (Independent on Sunday)

    Kynaston is brilliant and funny (Charles Moore, Daily Telegraph)

    His look behind the curtain and his detailing of the rich quotidian details of the recent past says everything about how we live now ... The striking thing about Modernity Britain is the parallels that Kynaston allows us to quickly draw (Big Issue in Scotland)

    Portrait of Britain on the verge of change in the late 1950s (Sunday Times)

    Wonderful history (Daily Telegraph)

    David Kynaston's monumental history ... Kynaston shows, with his customary finesse and kaleidoscopic range of sources (Independent on Sunday)

    Unrivalled eye for detail in this arresting portrait of Britain (Sunday Times Summer Reads)

    This is the latest volume in the historian's acclaimed series about Britain since 1945, Tales of a New Jerusalem. Focusing on the years of Harold Macmillan's first government, it echoes with the diverse voices of 1950s Britain, from Surbiton house-wives ("Why should I spend all morning making scones?") to Enoch Powell's nationalist rhetoric. It is a shrewd, funny and ever-readable book (Guardian Summer Reads)

    Kynaston lingers on the cusp of two decades, delivering insights into the nation's mood as it eyed cultural, political, and commercial change (Mail on Sunday Summer Reads)

    Epic series of post-war life ... Crams in such a mass of detail you feel you're living in "never had it so good" Britain (Paul Routledge, Tablet)

    The latest volume in what is becoming the essential history of postwar Britain (New Statesman)

    David Kynaston is as much a poet as a historian of postwar Britain, and he has an accurate eye for the detail on which poetry depends ... No other writer evokes Britain's past so well (Guardian)

    He conveys 1950s life more vividly than any historian before him ... Masterful (Economist)

    David Kynaston's Modernity Britain so I can read about Terylene and Fray Bentos tinned steak and kidney pie under an alien sun (Lucy Lethbridge, Observer, Summer Reads)

    Praised by journalists to the skies ... A grand design ... David Kynaston tells the story in his own measured words ... Kynaston has researched widely into such sources and digests them into a readable totality. If this is, in part, a scissors-and-past project, it's also one that stands on its own feet ... This is not a novel. It is not a memoir, though it eats the memoirs of others, plankton fashion. It is a species of history - annals, perhaps. Kynaston's far from copious political judgements are sensible and considerate ... The book identifies a British modernity of snobbery and privilege, but acknowledges exceptions and cross-currents (London Review of Books)

    Kynaston's montage technique, which creates a palimpsest of private and public sources, is once again deployed to great effect in this, the fifth in a remarkable sequence of volumes that will eventually cover the period from 1945 to 1979 (Standpoint)

    This book is preceded by two two-volume books that have been praised by journalists to the skies ... David Kynaston tells the story in his own measured words, and he also tells it in the often loud and uninhibited words of others ... Kynaston has researched widely into such sources and digests them into a readable totality ... An affinity with the fiction of Antony Powell has been caught, but this is not a novel. It is not a memoir, though it eats the memoirs of others, plankton-fashion. It is a species of history - annals, perhaps. Kynaston's far from copious political judgements are sensible and considerate (Karl Miller, London Review of Books)

    David Kynaston is a rare example of authorial effacement ... The sources - mainly letters and diaries - are left to speak for themselves. His work is suggestive rather than argumentative and one assumes that applying the word "modernity" to the country that Lawrence Durrell called "pudding island" is, at least in part, ironic ... Rather than writing from the Olympian vantage-point of the historian, Kynaston presents a succession of striking vignettes ... Kynaston is interested in the broad sweep of history (Independent)

    The latest instalment of his mammoth post-Second World War social history ... Skilfully blends highbrow with humdrum ... Kynaston has ranged widely in search of the spirit of the age, digging out local newspapers, youth-club records and Mass Observation survey results. All human life is here ... For those who recall Teddy Boys and the Angry Young Men, Sputnik, hula hoops and Nimble loaves spread with Blue Band margarine, Modernity Britain will be a swing-dance down memory lane. Readers born later in the century will, nevertheless, find themselves entranced by the narrative, which is as richly textured as a tufted carpet and hums with energy like a Hoovermatic twin-tub (Country Life)

    Kynaston's latest volume looks at how the luxuries of modernity - and its political bedfellows - swept the country in the late 1950s (Independent, Beach Reads)

    There are in fact two David Kynastons. One is the relatively conventional historian who has given us solid and illuminating accounts of the City of London, the Bank of England, the Financial Times and much else. The other is the venturesome innovator engaged in cutting up the rich history of post-war Britain into quite thin slices, and retailing news stories and contemporary comments, often on a day-by-day basis, to give the vivid flashback into how things were, and were felt, at the time ... Applying his usual striking technique, Kynaston places such life-changing trends in the context of innumerable and contrasting contemporary incidents and comments, remind us of what people had on their minds ... What of Kynaston's grand project as a whole? The first part of Modernity Britain and its successor will see the story through to 1962 - the halfway mark in Kynaston's planned 32-year-long saga - so we may expect a final total of 12 volumes. Some have compared it to The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon, and it certainly has affinities with Anthony Powell's series of novels, A Dance to the Music of Time. In any case, we can look forward to more of a stimulating and refreshing achievement (Times Higher Education Supplement)

    David Kynaston's technique as a historian is subtly immersive. His magisterial Austerity Britain and Family Britain covered the years from 1945 to 1957. This one proceeds only to 1959, and the election that brought the young Margaret Thatcher to Parliament ... Kynaston's unobtrusive pen defers to the evidence he so painstakingly gathers, from newspapers and books, dairies and letters. The result is much more than a patchwork of period detail, but the detail is irresistible (Intelligent Life)

    Kynaston is engaged on a massive project with the overarching title Tales of a New Jerusalem, which aims to tell the story of Britain from the end of the Second World War to the election of Margaret Thatcher in an unspecified number of volumes (Big Issue in Scotland)

    Kynaston is engaged on a massive project ... Tales of a New Jerusalem, which aims to tell the story of Britain from the end of the Second World War (Big Issue Cymru)

    Most historians care to believe they are disinterested truth-tellers, pretending that they don't have a particular axe to grind. They like to shape history into a certain pattern, whether they are viewing it from the Left or the Right. Some favour heroes and villains, others a sense of inevitability in worldly matters. A few allow the reader the space and freedom in which to relish, where it is due, the mysterious ordinariness of the past. David Kynaston is of that rare number. His enthusiasm for the enduring importance of trivia is among his many virtues as a chronicler of British life in the postwar years. This riveting book is the fifth in the sequence Tales of a New Jerusalem. Like its predecessors, it assembles the great alongside the not-so-great, the talented next to the clueless. Churchill is still around, but it's Harold Macmillan who now hogs the political limelight ... One of the treasures the diligent David Kynaston has unearthed is the fact that Cliff Richard was once considered "dangerous" ... Kynaston's histories are wide in scope and at times lyrical in conception. I can't wait for the next instalment (Paul Bailey, Oldie)

    When it is completed, Kynaston's multi-volume history of modern Britain will offer an unrivalled panoramic view of our country's social, cultural and political evolution between 1945 and 1979. This latest instalment focuses on the key years at the end of the 1950s when people were finally learning to turn their backs on austerity. His exhaustive trawl of sources, and his matchless gift for blending the trivial with the profound, ensure no corner of the national character is left unexplored (Craig Brown, Mail on Sunday Books of the Year)

    Modernity Britain . is the latest episode of David Kynaston's profoundly humane history of 20th-Century Britain. His past is not another country inhabited by politicians and the famous. It is peopled by those whose lives are shaped, like ours, as much by food, music and weather as by wars and legislation (New Statesman Books of the Year)

    We often think of 1950s Britain as a land trapped in tea-shop conservatism. But as Kynaston shows in the latest volume of his splendid journey through post-war British history, the final years of the decade could hardly have been more exciting . As always, Kynaston has produced a dazzling tapestry of sources. What really stands out, though, is his discussion of Britain's schools: in particular, the ordeal of the 11-plus, which meant the difference between lifetime success and failure for millions of British children (Sunday Times Books of the Year)

    Book Description

    Following Austerity Britain and Family Britain, the third and fulcrum volume in David Kynaston's landmark social history of post-war Britain

    Product details

    • Format: Kindle Edition
    • File Size: 2295 KB
    • Print Length: 432 pages
    • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing; 1 edition (20 Jun. 2013)
    • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
    • Language: English
    • ASIN: B00BMOQ1GU
    • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
    • X-Ray:
    • Word Wise: Enabled
    • Enhanced Typesetting: Not Enabled
    • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (50 customer reviews)
    • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #81,882 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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    More About the Author

    David Kynaston was born in Aldershot in 1951. He has been a professional historian since 1973 and has written eighteen books, including The City of London (1994-2001), a widely acclaimed four-volume history, and W.G.'s Birthday Party, an account of the Gentleman vs. the Players at Lord's in July 1898. He is the author of Austerity Britain, 1945-51, the first title in a series of books covering the history of post-war Britain (1945-1979) under the collective title 'Tales of a New Jerusalem'. He is currently a visiting professor at Kingston University.

    (Photo credit: Michael Burns)

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    Customer Reviews

    Most Helpful Customer Reviews
    27 of 27 people found the following review helpful
    5.0 out of 5 stars how we lived then - fascinating and enjoyable 22 Jun. 2013
    By markr TOP 500 REVIEWER
    Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
    Although this book is the third volume (so far) of a series covering British life since 1945, it stands well on its own as a fascinating insight into a time, which although relatively recent, is in many ways so different from our experience today. Much of the narrative is made up of quotes made at the time by people from all walks of life, giving a real sense of the lifestyles and attitudes held by various social groups and individuals in the late 1950s.

    Britain in the 1950s was still preoccupied by class differences and divisions - in education, entertainment, sport, housing and much else. But this was also a time when Britain was changing and just beginning to be a more open society. The debate about education was underway, with the 11 plus exam, the structure of secondary education, and the value of grammer and public schools under some scrutiny.

    Homosexual acts were just on the verge of being legalised, immigration from the commonwealth was unrestricted but discrimination widely practiced, television was growing with the development of commercial broadcasting(ITV was much more widely watched than the BBC, causing much angst about the impact it might have on the young),and rock and roll was starting to be heard. The young Cliff Richard appeared on stage at Butlins, Bruce Forsyth, then in his twenties was just breaking through, and more forthright plays and books were capturing attention. White good sales were rising rapidly - particularly washing machines and fridges - but less than a quarter of the population owned a car

    This all makes for enjoyable and informative reading, and is highly recommended whether or not you have read the volumes Austerity Britain, 1945-1951 (Tales of a New Jerusalem)and Family Britain, 1951-1957 (Tales of a New Jerusalem) covering the preceding years.
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    12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
    5.0 out of 5 stars BBC v ITV 29 Jun. 2013
    Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
    This is the third volume in what is becoming the greatest work of narrative history ever written by an Englishman. It covers the "hinge" years of 1957-59 when something of the country Britain was to become was increasingly clear. Thus we have the tensions of paternalism versus individualism, the increasing appeal of consumerism as a way of life and the rebuilding of our cities by naive modernists. In a way the different visons of the future were embodied by the BBC and the new commercial televison the one representing our elitist, intellectual, cautious and paternalistic side the other being more materialist, youthful and demotic. It is the dialectical interplay of these two visions which Kynaston synthesises with his genius.
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    2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
    5.0 out of 5 stars Every British person should have these books 19 Dec. 2013
    Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
    This is the third in Kynaston's amazing series - Austerity Britain and Family Britain are the first two. It is Part One of two, as the rest of the book will take us up to 1968 I think. They are an amazingly accessible vox pop journey through post WWII Britain, and the insight and immediacy of the writing and content is quite outstanding. I was born in 1942, so for me it is as if I am watching my own lifetime unfold in front of me. Don't be put off if you usually avoid history - these are different. One follows individuals through time, hearing what they feel about events, what they were doing, what they were buying, how they see politicians and celebrities. Don't delay - buy them today!
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    1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
    5.0 out of 5 stars Slowing down? 18 Sept. 2013
    By GregB
    Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
    As someone who has thoroughly enjoyed the previous volumes in the series, I second all the favourable comments made in the reviews of them and those of the latest volume. However, here I really want to comment on the fact that 'Modernity Britain' is only half the length of earlier volumes, which has puzzled some of the reviewers here (notably Mr. Perks.) Given the length of time that has passed since the previous volume, 'Family Britain', much longer (by about two years) than the interval between the first two volumes - due perhaps to Mr. Kynaston having a rather heavy work load in recent years - the publishers may have decided to just release what is effectively the first of two 'books' within the volume rather than wait for the entire volume's completion. Actually, the second part (1960 to 1962) now figures in the Amazon list of Mr. Kynaston's works (not the personal page but that which appears when his name is typed in the Amazon search) where it is scheduled for publication on September 11th, 2014, though when the link is opened up, the publication date is left open.

    So there may be a long wait ahead for that second part now, not to mention subsequent volumes if the recent pace is anything to go by. Oh well, one can always fall back on Dominic Sandbrook's excellent two-volume history of the 1960's in the meantime.
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    3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
    Format:Kindle Edition
    Another typical Kynaston book: enormously well researched and well put together. The flow of time is well managed throughout with loads of stories bringing out the realities of life for Britain in this period.
    A very rich book!
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    3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
    4.0 out of 5 stars Modernity Britain 19 July 2013
    Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
    David Kynaston is a very good author on the modern history of Britain. I have his previous two books covering post war Britain which is basically my life span and this volume is certainly up to the standard of the previous two.
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    3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
    5.0 out of 5 stars Nobody write better about the era 23 Dec. 2013
    Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
    The only disappointment is that I will have to wait for his next volume. This is history writing at its very best. Readable, interesting and exciting.
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