Wow. What a depressing book. In it, Danziger (Danziger's Adventures) recounts his attempt to discover, interview, and photograph "the huge ranks of the excluded and marginalized people of Great Britain." Danziger covers the gamut, from inner city, to tiny village, from recent immigrants, to the purest English, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, everywhere...
None of what he describes (children drug addicts, single mothers, welfare catch-22s, no future) would be considered particularly newsworthy in the US, on its own, but it does shatter the common perception Americans tend to hold of Great Britain. A polar opposite to Bill Brysons's fairly affectionate British travelogue, Notes From a Small Island. This is crucial reading for anyone interested in modern Britain.
on 1 July 1999
Danziger has brought us an intense, thought provoking and thoroughly readable travelogue about the seamier side of modern Britain. This is no jokey Notes From A Small Island II with one dimensional stereotyping of social deprivation but a serious attempt to understand and convey the reasoning behind our modern urban (and rural) ills.Taking his adopted home of Brixton as his starting point Danziger leads us through not only the streets of London but also Newcastle, Glasgow, Salford, Cornwall, the Highlands of Scotland and rural Suffolk to discover the drug addicts, joyriders, vandals and those that society has rejected. It is a harrowing journey and not for the faint hearted - on more than one occasion Danziger questions his own sanity when entering a new and potentially dangerous area with expensive camera equipment and no protection. I read this book with an increasing anger at how wasteful of human ambition the 80s and 90s have been with their "classless societies", "care in the community", "New Labour" soundbites. I can only wonder what it is that makes politicians so naive and so un appreciative of the power that they have to actually change policy and improve conditions for the people that Danziger writes about. In an ideal world every politician would be made to read Danziger's Britain before entering Parliament but as Nick Danziger so graphically illustrates this is no ideal world.
on 4 March 2002
I had taken a keen interest in researching the poorer areas of society, so I read some books on Brazil, India and the far east.
I had never considered that the cycle of extreme poverty, crime and alienation could exist on a similar level in my own country. Danziger's book opened my eyes to a world I had chosen to ignore. Continualy un-settling, often heartbreaking, it takes an unflinching journey through the lives of Britain's forgotten people, not afraid to express his despair, Danziger also highlights the hope and solidarity that bind these people together.
Anyone who wants to know the harsh truth about life in modern Britain needs this book, it is always honest, always compassionate and stands as a sad epitaph for our green and pleasant land.
This review relates to the 1996 edition.
Early on in this impressive and thought-provoking book, Danziger says that at the time of his investigation "Britain has a working class which no longer works, a ruling class which no longer rules and a middle class which is no longer in the middle but sliding".
The intention of this book is to examine the lives of the people of Britain, and in particular the young people of Britain in 1994-5 - those who are excluded, or self-excluded, and marginalised, hence the book's subtitle "A Journey to the Edge". Danziger is well-qualified to carry out such an investigation, having an extensive knowledge of the countries and an external perspective from his Anglo-American roots, having previously reported on the peoples of the ancient trade routes crossing China, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran, and being an award-winning photographer.
Crucially, Danziger does not judge but lets the voices of the people he meets and their pictures speak for themselves;sometimes their voices are presented in the appropriate dialect, such as "Ah canny really be bothered bilin' up a kettle. It's hauf four the noo, an Tommy'll be hame fae his tea", at other times their words are `translated" - "I've got to pick up the weans from the creche. I threaten my lasses. I won't look after them next time they go inside, but it does not deter them". These two Glasgow friends are both talking to the author at a common meeting. I would prefer the latter throughout since the descriptions of the individuals, their ways of life and their environments provide a very strong context for their remarks.
Stories of the most gut-wrenching sadness are reported in such calm tones: the lady who, having been abused by her son, started to suffocate him with a pillow whilst he lay drugged and drunk - and then realised what she was about to do; the mother with three children already dead from drug-taking wondering which of her children would be next; the futility of children's schooling when fathers and grandfathers had been without jobs for years; the young children sniffing glue and regularly stealing drink for their own use, and the problems that are seen by primary school teachers which reflect their domestic environments and relationships.
Glue, alcohol and drugs represent sure ways to remove their users from the boredom, emptiness and hopelessness of life, and suicide or accidental death is simply the next step in the process of protecting oneself against the pains of everyday life. Underpinning the problems that Danziger describes are racial tensions, between immigrants and the majority, Caucasian population, and between different ethnic groups.
And yet the pages of this book shine with stories of individuals who have travelled down similar bleak roads but who, for a variety of reasons, have decided to redirect their lives and try to make a difference. Offering refuge to those in danger of physical and mental battering, creating opportunities for people to make a new start, offering advice and experience in a non-judgemental way, creating support groups within damaged societies and standing up to the criminals and thugs who are well known to local communities but, all to often, against whom the police are unable to take action through lack of evidence and witnesses.
These are the heroes and heroines of this book but, after almost two decades since this book was published, one wonders what the messages coming out from the places visited in this book, Brixton, Leicester, Halifax, Newcastle, Northern Scotland, Glasgow, Blackpool, Barrow-in-Furness, Liverpool, Salford, Brighton, Suffolk, Cornwall, South Wales and Belfast, would be today. It is also salutary that each of these places could be replaced by others with the same story being recounted.
This book should have been given to every Cabinet Minister and Shadow Cabinet Minister whose brief impinges on the Social Services, Education, Housing, Immigration, Welfare and Health sectors and whose expert knowledge is obtained from a cosy office in Westminster, from consultants and well-planned visits to areas of "difficulty". The problems that it highlights remain and, in many cases, have become worse in the period since the publication of this book.
At the end of each chapter, Danziger updates the reader on what subsequently happened to a few of the characters he has introduced us to. There might be an argument that, if fewer people been presented in rather more depth, the underlying problems and ills of society might be teased out more effectively. However, that is not the responsibility of one person, however eloquent. I would be very interested to know whether, at any time since the publication of this book, the author has been invited to sit on bodies looking into problems of young people not fulfilling their potential or has been asked to appear before relevant Parliamentary Committees.
In its integration of words and black and white photographs, Danziger's Britain is on a par with James Agee and Walker Evans' "Let Us Now Praise Famous Men", and no higher praise can be given.
This book fully deserves a 6* score and, everyone who reads it should never feel the same when passing a Big Issue seller, reading articles relating to the issues that Danziger raises, seeing the results of such wasted lives in our urban and rural environments and, most importantly, consider ways in which their individual skills and experience can be brought to bear on the challenges facing the next generation of Britain's youth. This would be a fitting and effective tribute to Danziger's book.
This is a strange and captivating book; but it is not one for which I would use the term "enjoyable'.
Danziger travels to a range of places scattered through out the UK - predictably they include the NE of England and Liverpool, but he also visits rural communities in Scotland, Cornwall and Suffolk. This gives the book a far wider sweep than a number of others, and in that way it reminds me more of an English Journey by J. B. Priestley rather than Orwell's Road to Wigan Pier.
The "Edge" to which the author travels is both a physical and social description of communities that had become marginalized as the tides of change passed over the UK. It seems clear that some of the communities were the victims of bad luck, but in most cases they feel like the product of neglect and poor planning. Governments of both persuasions failed the people of these communities and it is these people who had been left to bear the consequences.
In most cases there were glimmers of hope as people tried to take back some control of their own lives, but it felt like they were emptying the sea with a bucket.
I suspect a similar book could still be written today. This does not make this book irrelevant, but offers up a very clear view of what happens when places and people feel has if they have been left behind.
This book should be read as a clear-eyed, but often downcast, vision of a way of life that should not exist within the UK.