on 12 May 2013
I have enjoyed Stuart Maconie's other books and his work on the radio. This, however, is a bit of a mixed bag. It reads as though the book was written and published in a rush.
Maconie sets up each chapter with a quote about a particular year. He soon wanders a long way from this quote - usually but not always - telling the reader of his travels. His travels are the best part of the book. He seems most comfortable and most readable when he is meeting owners of cafes and eating teacakes. He illuminates the 'ordinary' person. Early chapters are very readable, although the writer tends to write more about the north of England than any other parts of Britain. He misses out Scotland altogether and has very little to say about the history of Wales.
About midway through, the book looses direction. There is a huge chapter on football with the sort of commentary that you hear from certain sorts of young football enthusiasts on the train from Cardiff to London. For the person who has no interest in football at all, this is purgatorial. I skipped most of it. After this chapter comes one that slips into a rant about the royal family. The trouble is that we have heard all of this before. The book is probably at its best when Maconie is almost invisible and at its worst when it degenerates into sociological jargon. In a book of this sort, we need to know less of Maconie's own opinions and leave the 'facts' to speak for themselves. It is also irritating when the author uses the book to let the reader know what Maconie has achieved.
There are numerous factual errors throughout the book and a lot of typos. Careful editing would have caught these errors before the book got into print. Generally, then, an enjoyable read but one that could have been so much better.
on 14 September 2011
I've been a fan of Stuart Maconie for some time and have thoroughly enjoyed all his books, particularly 'Pies and Prejudice'. I wasn't actually sure he would ever better that effort but with 'Hope and Glory' he has at least matched it and possibly gone on a step further. 'As funny as Bryson and as wise as Orwell' is the Observer's verdict and for once this is no hyperbole. Maconie writes beautifully, he has created laugh out loud moments alongside moving accounts written with great poignancy. Some would describe Stuart Maconie as having a left wing agenda but really his observations transcend politics. He simply writes with enormous compassion and a thorough understanding of the human condition. From the Battle of the Somme to the National Front, the Suffragettes to Simon Cowell via Bobby Moore, Punk and a whole lot more this is history as it should be. Never dull, always entertaining, informative and full of lessons we should learn from. An outstanding book and certainly my candidate for the most enjoyable book of the year.
Stuart Maconie takes a simple idea in this book and uses it as a starting point for a whole host of entertaining, thoughtful, often humorous, sometimes touching, digressions. The basic premise is that he goes in search of the people, places and events which shaped modern Britain, taking a single day from each decade of the twentieth century. It begins on the 22nd January 1901 and the death of Queen Victoria, allowing him to discuss the suffragettes. The Battle of the Somme allows him to visit villages with 'pals battalions' - which meant that often a whole generation of menfolk were wiped out together (or, in very rare cases, to all return home). Along the way, the author looks at trade unions, television, multi culturalism, climbing Everest, the 1966 world cup, punk rock and the Queen's silver jubilee of 1977, Live Aid (personally my favourite and, I think, the funniest section of the book) and the 1997 election when Tony Blair became PM. Although the author has taken some very serious events and moments, he injects his own humour and personality into every selection, making it is a pleasure to accompany him on his travels. I look forward to reading more by this very talented author.
on 12 July 2011
What a great pleasure to see a writer grow with each book. I have now read all of his work and he just gets better. Perhaps it is his taste in music or his politics? Or perhaps it is just the humour and warmth that leap from every page, but I love his work. I cannot wait for the next installment. I have travelled every step of the way with the writer and felt the love in his subject. if you only but one book this summer please buy this
on 5 September 2014
Well, Bryson he ain't... and he makes Orwell sound like a right-wing swivel-eyed loony. Maconie parades his right-on PC credentials, having a go at all the usual targets - Thatcher, Cameron and Royalty. Basically he's saying "The People are Alright" regardless of what politicians get up to. Worth a shufty, but it won't change your life...
Having really loved Stuart Maconie's last three books in which he looked at his obsession with pop music , what it means to be a northerner and the quirks of the British middle classes, I was a bit worried that he might have been running out of ideas with this latest one. The theme seemed a bit tenuous - pick a date from each decade of the 20th century and visit key places to find out more about the events that have shaped the Britain we live in today. I needn't have worried; Maconie's writing is as warm and funny as ever and he manages to make both earth-shattering events and mundane everyday occurrences equally interesting and relevant.
The events Stuart has chosen to illustrate the social history of the 20th century range from the rise of the Suffragettes, the General Strike and the emerging Trade Union movement to the arrival of The Windrush, the birth of punk and the landslide election of 1997 - all subjects which interest me so he pretty much had my attention guaranteed from the start. However, he also managed to keep me informed and entertained through chapters on mountaineering (the Queen's coronation and the conquering of Everest in June 1953) and football (England's 1966 World Cup victory). No mean feat I can tell you.
As he travels around in search of the people and places involved (consuming copious pots of tea and toasted teacakes in museum cafes en route), we are treated to the usual wry asides and insightful observations fans have come to know and love from his previous books. This description of the portrait of Prince Albert on display in Osborne House really made me chuckle: "Furthermore, he wears that expression of ineffable pain and weariness familiar to anyone who's just been told they need a new boiler".
Every time I read a Stuart Maconie book I vow to make more time to listen to him on the radio, but somehow never get round to it. If he's as funny and perceptive on air as he is in print I'm definitely missing out on something.
on 20 October 2012
I have to declare an immediate interest - I regard Stuart Maconie as one of the best broadcasters and chroniclers of everyday life currently around. He's incredibly witty and funny, and as always that is what makes this book sparkle. He also appears to be an incredibly nice bloke, a humane and sypathetic commentator, and someone who would provide unbeatable company down the pub. This is an interesting concept for a book, occupies a niche I've not seen filled before, and is written with Stuart's usual attractive blend of acute observation and accessible explanation of what in other hands would be dry historical context.
However I'm not sure why someone (presumably at the publishers) decided to add the subtitle "A People's History of Modern Britain" - as this simply points up a couple of weaknesses in the book. Namely that it's not really a "People's History", and it's not really "of Britain".
It's a series of explorations of aspects of everyday life which help shape the society we live in, each cleverly hung on the peg of a key date from each decade. However Maconie makes no bones about his personal perspective in all these areas, and his accounts are - by his own declaration - far from impartial. That makes for a fun read, but anyone expecting an authoritative reference book should look elsewhere. For example it makes a very pleasant change (as opposed to the usual tabloid agenda about immigration and race) to read a positive and truthful account of how those living in areas filled with people from around the world generally get on well with each other - because underneath all the cultural differences, most people wherever they're from are nice, considerate and decent. But there's a niggling doubt that Stuart really should have mentioned - even in passing - that not everything is rosy in every corner of multi-cultural Britain. That is also a fact of contemporary life, and Stuart does the noble cause of tolerance no favours by ignoring it.
And although all the themes explored apply to Britain as a whole, this is essentially a book about England. It's not just Maconie's slightly irritating tic of using the word "England" when he means "Britain" and vice versa, and it's not just that he makes only one single foray outside of England, to Snowdon. It's the fact that he appears disappointingly unaware of the different perspectives from different parts of the UK on almost every theme in the book. An obvious untold story, an unusual 'take' I've never seen chronicled, would be the reaction to 1966 in the bits of the UK outside England. Were people cheering on their neighbours? Were they in fact supporting Germany? Or - as I suspect - were they really not much bothered one way or the other? Same with the chapter on rambling and the 'right to roam' - there's literally no mention of the fact that this issue was pioneered under entirely separate legislation in Scotland.
The final chapter - the weakest of the book - illustrates the problem perfectly. In 100 years' time what will be remembered about the 1990's won't be a landslide election (what Stuart concentrates on), nor even the mass grief following a royal death. What the history books will record will be the end of 40 years of violence in Northern Ireland, and the biggest shake-up of the British constitution for 300 years in the form of devolution to Wales and Scotland. But because these aren't English phenomena, Stuart can't find even one word to mention them however fleetingly.
It's a shame, because despite all that I would heartily recommend this as an entertaining, insightful and very funny book by a gifted writer and top bloke.
I think Mr Maconie has been let down by a sub-editor or someone because the blurb on the back of the paperback edition has some nonsense on it. Apparently Sir Edmund Hillary was a "Briton" and the book is described as a "...journey round Britain...". Well if he ever went to Scotland I missed it so it should read a "journey round England". Trivial matters perhaps but if this is what is on the cover can we trust the content inside?
I have to take issue with the rather sneery "class warrior" stance that the author takes on many occasions as well. Yes there are easy targets and he doesn't fail to hit them but by the end of the book it all becomes rather tiresome and obvious. Where he does score though is in some of the descriptive, observational passages which are witty and clever and redeem the book to a great degree.
I appreciate that it is difficult to address British - or should I say - English history without some reference to class but because Mr Maconie paints it on with too large a brush in this volume I'm afraid as a historical commentary it is slightly tarnished. As a travelogue and observational piece however it passes muster OK
on 21 July 2011
I love Stuart Maconie's writing; it is intelligent, intellectual, articulate and very,very funny. I like the way he spares not the idiocies of the present day, the "dribbling" television programmes, the culture of unmerited celebrity and the generally weary folk he meets. This book is a fantastic ramble through history, geography and his own subject of sociology.Be warned, though; this author can reduce you to tears.
on 2 June 2014
Firstly, the title is a complete misnomer. This is not a history of modern Britain, more a rather pedestrian travelogue crossed with a particularly witless polemic.
The structure is of the book is deeply flawed. By cherry picking specific moments in history and looking at them in isolation you get no sense of the bigger picture, of the forces of history that drove these happenings to put them in context. What history there is is anecdotal, poorly researched and viewed through the distorting prism of Maconie's particular political worldview.
It is also disturbing quite how many members of society Mr Maconie disapproves... families, the modern working class, the middle class, the upper class, The Royal Family, Atheists the list goes on. Basically unless you are a middle aged lady in a tourist information shop, were a member of the (sainted) working class pre 1984 or live in Handsworth in Birmingham you are pretty written off often for the flimsiest pretexts. Like a one-man Daily Mail, Maconie doesn't need facts to build an argument, a simple glimpse of someone from a taxi window is enough to damn an entire population.
It's a shame, because when he puts aside his ideological baggage, Maconie can be a witty and engaging author with great turn of phrase. Unfortunately he hides this for much of the book behind a childish dogmatism and sanctimonious moralising.
Ultimately what made me really dislike this book though is the arrogance of an author who wraps up his own particular bigotry and ill-informed opinions as 'History' and then charges people for the privilege of reading them. I've no issue with people having strong opinions, but in future perhaps he could keep them to internet forums (and Amazon reviews) like everyone else.
If you want an excellent history of modern Britain the I recommend Anything by Dominic Sandbrook or Alwyn Turner who manage to be witty and engagingly readable whilst still being impeccably researched and well argued.