As the United Kingdom winds itself up for the Queen's Jubilee year Richard Weight's Patriots: National Identity in Britain, 1940-2000
is a timely survey of the forces uniting and disassembling Elizabeth II's dominion. Weight's book takes up where Norman Davies' eye-catching The Isles
(1999) left off, and where Tom Nairn's brilliant Break-Up of Britain
(1977) gave up. He traces the demise of the self-confident British nationalism of the Victorian age, and its replacement by a multiplication of identities--Celtic, regional, generational, ethnic--all of which have undermined the white Anglo-Saxon Protestantism of 'our' ancestors.
The book is particularly good on the 1940s and 1950s, the author's own area of expertise, showing how the British establishment slowly and reluctantly came to terms with the end of empire and the rise of the welfare state, and failed miserably in its attempts to "police" national identity. Elsewhere, although the book is always provocative and studded with diamonds of detail--on tourism, sport, pop music, films and TV--it becomes too much of a social and cultural history of the recent past. The balance between polemic and analysis is lost, and some of the subtler intricacies of citizenship, devolution, and sovereignty get discarded in the race for the finish. Weight concludes with appropriate ambivalence: few traces of the old jingoism remain amid so much diversity, yet there is considerable life left in the nation-state. As essayists ever since the age of Defoe have realised, debates over the "true Englishman" (and woman) are always interesting, necessarily opinionated, and seldom definitive. This big sprawling book is no exception.--Miles Taylor
'Here are the themes of Orwell's The Lion and the Unicorn stretched over the subsequent sixty years and widened to embrace the whole United Kingdom. Brimming with zest and feel this is politico-cultural history at its best.' Peter Hennessy; 'Wide-ranging, intelligent, sensible and important.' Max Hastings, Sunday Telegraph; 'A marvellously rich, ambitious and at times iconoclastic study by a young historian of how, in the broadest sense, national identity in Britain has changed in the last 60 or so years' David Kynaston, Financial Times; 'A major work: the fruit of long research, wide reading and hard thinking, engagingly written, bubbling with fresh ideas' Stephen Howe, Independent