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on 18 November 2009
Andrew Marr is the kind of person you wish had been your History teacher at school. Many people view history as a dry subject, boring at best and downright death inducing at worst. But history, as presented by Mr Marr, comes alive and throbs with vitality. This book, following on from his previous one, covers the period from the start of the twentieth century right up until the end of the Second World War. During that time there is a wealth of history waiting to be discovered and many things will amaze you.

Sadly though Andrew Marr has at times been sloppy with his facts. For example Mr Marr rightly claims that Queen Victoria was born in 1819 and became Queen in 1837, but mistakenly states that Queen Victoria was twenty when she became Queen, when in fact she had turned eighteen less than a month previously. When you find errors like this it tends to undermine your confidence in the facts being presented overall throughout the book. Some proof reading would have served Mr Marr well, one feels.

But that said this is a very good book, filled with a wealth of history that is easy to read and even more easy to understand. It is not dry history, but is alive and helps us to understand the path our country took to arrive in our modern times. Along the way you will learn about Edwardians, World War One, the General Strike, Depression and of course the road to further conflict during World War Two.

Personally I love history and read a lot of books on the subject. But this book will appeal to people on a much wider scale and reading through it's pages won't make you feel as though you are back in a boring history lesson. Rather you will feel like a tourist travelling through time soaking up what our grandparents and great grandparents experienced during their lives.
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on 10 November 2009
I hadn't read anything by Andrew Marr before, but as 1900-1945 is a period I'm very interested in I thought I'd give this a go. Marr's an engaging TV presenter, but his writing style is even more evocative, and it's almost as if he's telling you the story of the period face to face with the way he manages to bring the period to life so well. You can almost hear him speaking to you as you read.

The social history element was what I enjoyed most - the stories of the music hall entertainers, the first night club owners, the Suffragettes, the birth of the mortgage-obsessed society, the first package holidays - but what's fascinating is the way Marr weaves politics, general history, social history and commentary together so that you don't even realise you're moving from one subject to another. This was a great read, and educational, and I'm definitely going to be buying his next book!
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Marr's previous history of post war Britain was hugely accessible, well written, populist and often very quirky. One remembers the flashes of detail such as the impact on the British people of unpopular imported tinned fish "snoek" after the second world war or his dislike of the eighties "big hair" rock bands. As a big post 1945 political history for the general reader it has few equals but can Marr perform the same trick in his new and equally weighty tome "The Making of Modern Britain" subtitled "From Queen Victoria to VE Day"

It is set in a historical period that has been subject to forensic analysis from eminent historians ranging from A J P Taylor, Peter Clarke, Paul Addison and Martin Pugh. Similarly in terms of key events like the First World War there is an embarrassment of riches in terms of the works of Huw Strachen, John Keegan and Niall Ferguson. As such this period is one of the most studied and argued over era's in British history and it begs the question what can Marr add?

Ultimately the value of Marrs approach it to pitch his book again into the field of populist history and encourage accessibility. No doubt students and the general reader will use his book as a source to get into other historical works for which we must pay our thanks to him. His book accompanies a TV series and therefore has to be lively in its analysis, entertaining and self deprecating. As Marr has stated in the series bumf "If you are not trying to make people watch, if you're determined to maintain your dignity, then you're in the wrong business". That said the sections in this book on Music Halls, the Suffragettes, Charlie Chaplin and political figures like Asquith and Lloyd George are excellent and provide real illumination. Similarly he vividly retells the story of the how belief systems on eugenics and vegetarianism were essentially formed in this period to great effect. Marr of course is most at home with the politics of the period and with the all those big pre war ideologies swirling around he is in his element.

There are some niggling little errors in the book Marr says that King Edward V11 is the cousin of the Kaiser when in fact Edward was actually the uncle of the German Emperor. In terms of interpretation his analysis of Ben Tillett is a nice piece of historical revisionism that rescues a key figure in Labour history from obscurity; but is he Britain's answer to Leon Trotsky? To be fair this is only implied but somewhat overcooked. Similarly with the array of BBC researchers at his disposal the lack of footnotes and a proper bibliography is a bit on the lazy side. That said in the run up to Christmas this book will be intelligent and enjoyable stocking filler and goes well beyond just being a script for the TV series. Stretching to 450 pages it provides ample evidence that Marr like the best historians tells a good story very well, he will draw and excite new people into what is clearly the best analytical discipline within the arts and for his hugely enjoyable history he should be widely applauded.
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on 19 October 2009
The Making of Modern Britain is a very good book dealing with the era when Britian evolved from a Victorian superpower to the dawn of the country we know today. It is well-written, insightful, opinionated and has a very good pace. However, there is a slight hint of bias at times. Also because it is covering 45 years in around 400-500 pages it does not cover everything, and partly as the result of this some may struggle to get used to the structure, which although roughly chrononlogical does jump about a bit in both themes (just because the author was the political editor of the BBC do not assume that it is a dry book about politics) and time. The one major criticsm I have of the work though is the bibliography which is not up to the standard of the rest of the work . All in all though a very good book.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 28 November 2009
'The Making of Modern Britain' is interesting and entertaining but it is not an in depth history book, rather a series of historical vignettes. True to his journalistic background the likeable Andrew Marr stays with personalities and not events, with contenders for power not the background to power. Generally the personalities he describes are those we might expect to hear about with, perhaps, one or two exceptions. He works very hard to pull a 'gee-whiz' fact out of the bag in each case and will generally succeed in surprising the reader. Marr tells us this is definitely not a television book, however, that is exactly what it seems to be although more centrally placed in the political spectrum than the accompanying BBC programmes. No surprise there then, as he might say.
The book is split into four obvious sections; pre-WWI, WWI itself, between the wars and WWII. Correctly, in a book of this sort, Marr makes no attempt to describe the wars themselves but stays with the leading personalities of the time and their processional dance of power; Churchill being an ever present character throughout.
In a recent talk Andrew Marr stated that he was not trying to attract those with an established interest in history, but rather to 'draw in' those for whom history may be a new subject. The book will probably succeed in this mission and it is a good and entertaining commentary on the times. For those of a more academic turn of mind there are many in depth histories and biographies currently on sale.
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VINE VOICEon 22 March 2010
... to write this sort of book?

For at least two reasons. Firstly, as a journalist, Marr is used to telling a story. He engages his readers with everything, from slices of domestic life to high politics - throughout the whole book, the facts matter - not simply as abstract pieces of information to be absorbed, but as events which shaped the lives of individuals.

Secondly, as a BBC journalist, Marr is used to careful impartiality. There are no heroes here - or rather, there are heroes, but they are human: we don't have any hagiography. And there are, in a sense, no villains. For example, on the matter of appeasement, Marr avoids the simplistic approach of blaming the ten or so politicians who steered the policy, and points to the fact that people in their millions were crying out for their leaders to avoid war.

Too often, the writers of disciplines we call "the arts" have their own axe to grind, their own agenda to put forward. So we have feminist, gay, black, social evolutionist accounts of history. What we don't see enough of is this kind of general account, which looks at history "in the round". There are other such accounts - I enjoyed Great Tales from English History: the Battle of the Boyne to DNA, 1690-1953: Battle of the Boyne to DNA v. 3, for example, by Robert Lacey, although these were perhaps pitched at a slightly younger readership (Marr has slightly more salacious detail about mistresses, for example). But if you are looking for a single volume overview of the key issues that shaped the United Kingdom in these crucial years from 1900-1945, you could do much worse than start here.
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VINE VOICEon 21 December 2009
Like other reviews have pointed out, History can, at times, be quite a boring subject, especially when you're being taught it by a person who has the personality of a table. Andrew Marr doesn't have that, he is without a doubt the best story teller of historical periods I personally have ever encountered. He makes it interesting and fun but sadly, Marr is let down by the same failings that cursed his last book and that is the factual errors that you come to notice. I'm aware that Marr's book is not meant to be any particular authority on history, and in fact is just meant to be an entertaining read to give you some overview of key historical events. However, you do expect the facts around the events and people involved to be accurate, otherwise this book can only be considered historical fiction.

This is sort of a prequel to his last book as he now goes back further in time to the period ending with the death of Queen Victoria, up to the point of the end of the Second World War. Covering most influential events, social, political and economic. But he truly shines when talking about the tragedies of the wars. Obviously, with us currently going through a terrible war now, he needs to deal with the historical subject of war with sensitivity and understanding of the plight of the soldiers of that time. He describes the setting with such raw brutality I found myself questioning the truth of his statements, yet in the back of my mind I knew the story he was telling was true.

He's an excellent storyteller, one of the best in fact. The accompanying documentary series is just sublime as he can bring these historical events to life by injecting a new lease of life into them. For those who have a passing interest in history or for those looking for brief reference points for further study then this is a worthy book to have in any collection.
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on 1 April 2010
It was interesting to see other reviews call this "more interesting than dry history lessons". As an A level history student, I have to disagree with that view, because history is the best subject in the world, but it has a good point.

This book is, like the TV series, broken down into exciting and intriguing little episodes of the first half of the 20th century. Although the book lacks real detail and fluency, the personal nature of the tiny chapters makes them more 'real' and interesting. The big downside for me was Marr's sweeping authoritative generalisations, which are so common you get used to them. There is, to this reader, a lot of simplification. But if you accept that this is a casual story being told by a journalist and not a historian, you can get into it. As well as all the key British events of the early 20th century which (if you're anything like me!) you feel you should know about, the book also has some more unusual tales, such as that of the mad Mitford sisters. There were a few bits on literature and architecture which I skipped, but the majority of the book was very enjoyable. In particular, the fascinating personalities of David Lloyd George and Winston Churchill came across more than they would have done if they were mere characters in a proper history book.
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on 16 May 2011
This is a joint review together with Marr's 'The History of Modern Britain', the companion volume which deals with the post-war history of the UK.

First, the good points. Marr is a very engaging writer with a good eye for an anecdote. Both books are rich in period detail and cover areas (for example, the rise and fall of the music hall) which aren't usually dealt with in general histories of this period. He also has a neat way of starting with something small (a minor incident, a now forgotten personality) and using that as the introduction to a far bigger picture, tying the personal or incidental to more familiar historical themes. This makes them perfect bedside books - you'll find yourself dipping into them for the pleasure of spending an hour or so in Marr's company.

And the bad? The fact that they are perfect bedtime reading means that they are pretty undemanding and, at times, superficial; the two world wars, for example, are cantered through with indecent haste. Similarly, there is no original research; no-one with a passing knowledge of 20th century British history will learn anything new here. And, as others have noted, they also contain quite a few factual errors. Some readers might notice a bit of political bias, too (Marr cheerfully admits to being a "raving Lefty" as a student) and there are bits - the rise of the trade unions, for example, or 1960s counter-culture - which read as if Marr never really left the editor's chair at the Independent.

However, if you accept that Marr is a journalist rather than a historian and that these are essentially tv tie-ins (albeit top-notch ones) rather than History-with-a-capital-H then you'll find plenty to enjoy. Recommended.
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VINE VOICEon 20 June 2010
After seeing parts of his A History of Modern Britain I was interested to see how Marr would treat the earlier part of the 20th Century from the end of the Victorian Era to V.E. Day. The answer is with a great success. It is not often that history books are so enjoyable. Marr's voice permeates his writing and you can feel him reading it to you with his usual characteristic gusto. His focus is on the people, not only the big people although Churchill has a big part to play as he was such a large figure both in the Liberal governments and then as a war leader. Lloyd-George also looms large but there are also stories of the music hall greats and most importantly how British opinion and society changed.

It is the story of how we went from a jingoist Empire to a much more pacifist and less confident more introspective Britain. He tells how we moved towards the left but that we still keep our centre, that Britain is not a place of extremes but of the middle-ground. It is the story of a more equal society but also one with great weaknesses that it often fails to admit. His discussion of the economic crisis and the failure of British industry to innovate and modernise except when driven by war is as topical today as it was nearly a century ago. We do not learn from history because it never quite repeats itself but this shows what there is to be proud about Britain's past while also not being afraid to show the failures and the weaknesses.
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