49 of 51 people found the following review helpful
This review is from: Family Britain, 1951-1957 (Tales of a New Jerusalem) (Hardcover)
This awesome study is the follow-up to Austerity Britain 1945-1951, and if you've read that book then you will know what to expect here. Family Britain contains the same mixture of social issues, politics, cultural developments and personal reminiscences - drawn from a wide variety of sources including Mass Observation studies and personal diaries (we continue following the lives of Nella Last, Judy Haines, Anthony Heap and the other private diarists from the first book) - with the emphasis always on how the great events and changing times affected ordinary people living ordinary lives.
(Also what may or may not become worth noting for when the paperback/s come out: Family Britain is divided into two 'books' - 'The Certainties of Place' and 'A Thicker Cut', in the same way that Austerity Britain comprised the books 'A World to Build' and 'Smoke in the Valley.')
Beginning with the Festival of Britain and ending with Eden's resignation, the book goes through the years basically chronologically, but pauses to consider the general themes and social issues of the period looking at race, class, housing, secondary schools, religion, the place of women and of course family life among many other things.
It really is a fascinating book, breathtaking in its scope and range of sources and at all times a joy to read. It was also very satisfying how the author looked at issues in order to test our conventional wisdom of the period and - pleasingly - often shows how much more complicated the true picture is (eg the place of Christianity in Britain or the state of neighbourliness and sense of community etc.) It is also frequently pretty funny, with wry asides and the inclusion of the odd amusing response in with the contemporaneous survey evidence ("Sorry, can't talk ducks look - I got no teeth!) and I always looked forward to the latest reviews from the private diary of minor civil servant and theatre nut Anthony Heap (Waiting for Godot is "infantile...dreary...preposterous," Look Back In Anger is "monotonous...puerile...nauseating.") In addition to the voices featured in the previous book we follow such now-well-known figures as Kingsley Amis, Philip Larkin, Doris Lessing and John Fowles as well as hearing mention of kids like 'Mike' Jagger and Christine Keeler, foreshadowing the next instalment.
I would have liked a bit more politics (not at the expense of anything else though) and some of the transitions between paragraphs were a bit silly (eg after talking about two people he might continue with: "Probably neither were in Ipswich two days later when..." etc.) Plus, although the book does spend a fair amount of time in Glasgow and the English North and Midlands as well as the South, there isn't much about Wales, the rest of Scotland or Northern Ireland (nothing at all if I remember rightly) - which I know a lot of people take issue over with books that claim to be about 'Britain.'
Having said that, this book is a fantastic read for anyone with an interest in recent history and, I would think, an invaluable resource for any student or anyone
with a professional interest in this period. You don't have to have read the previous volume to enjoy this book I'm sure, though I read Austerity Britain directly before reading this so I've basically just read 1,350 pages of this stuff and if the subsequent volumes were available I would happily read straight through to the page 3,500 or whatever it will be when this series is finished. From the afterword in this book we can infer that the next volume will be called Modernity Britain.
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Initial post: 8 Dec 2009 14:28:28 GMT
S Wood says:
One for my list.
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