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The Thirties Paperback – 3 Feb 2011
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‘The cinematic clarity of Gardiner’s descriptions of accidents and ceremonies tells more about the decade than a page of statistics.…or the depth of its research, the quality of the writing and the sheer richness and vibrancy of the material, this is a quite outstanding work of social history’ Telegraph
‘It is comfortably the definitive account of a decade that has been much maligned’ Daily Telegraph
‘A definitive, vividly detailed book on a complex decade, which is a joy to read’ History Today
From the Author
The Thirties: An intimate History started life under another name `Sitting on a Jigsaw', and that's how I think of the 1930s still: a fascinating series of pieces, that it's hard to fit together. Mass unemployment, hunger marches and slum dwellings alongside growing prosperity, glamour, swing, glitzy shops, modernist architecture, an obsession with speed. There was a passionate belief in a brave new world that science and progressive politics could bring about, and yet fascism and communism and ultimately war were also the reality. I have always found the Thirties an endlessly fascinating decade, and the only way to bring them to life was to write an intimate history, following the complex experiences of as many British people as possible as they lived through those complex pre war years.
--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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This book is important reading for all interested in the development of thought and responses in thwe United Kingdom. Some of the comments beggar belief that they were ever made-the role of women, and what they were fit for, the pro motor lobby that classed pedestrians as a necessary evil,but certainly legislation should not be designed to protect them.One has to remember that the incidents that are written about only occured some eighty years ago-a person's life span-Technology has made great strides, but as the British human race made such great strides in that period-I wonder.
An excellent and well researched book that isreadable to the laymam, but includes historical significance for the student of history.
The book begins in hauntingly sad vein with the Glen cinema disaster in Paisley that claimed the lives of seventy-one children on the last day of 1929. It was a horrible start to the new decade for the town where the effects of the depression were being severely felt, just as they were in other parts of West Scotland, Wales and various industrial locations in England. Ms Gardiner goes on to detail the indignities suffered by the increasingly large numbers of unemployed and also how those in work found themselves subject to the constraints of a low-wage economy. As the book progresses the reader may well find it hard to stem a rising sense of disbelief at the callous decisions made by some of those in power - at parliamentary and local level - when dealing with increasing numbers of the poor. The sheer poverty involved and the ungenerous attitude of the state toward giving financial relief is thoroughly reported but one personal illustration stuck in my mind: A new mother in an unemployed household stated that when their baby was born she and her husband borrowed a mattress from neighbours and spread newspapers on it. She used to feed the baby on a bottle of warm water and put the baby to bed in a drawer. Nappies were made from newspaper. But, when she appeared before the Public Assistance Committee and was asked if the baby was being breast fed, she made the mistake of saying yes. As a result, the committee promptly cut a proportion of the allowance the couple received for their child. - Such small snippets of first-hand testimony can say more than an entire chapter. I expect everyone who reads this book will find some comment or recollection that similarly stays with them.
Throughout, the book illustrates events by using the various voices of individuals who experienced life during the decade, from the poorest upwards through the social scale. The hunger marches are well covered, (I had no idea of how many marches there were - the media these days tend only to mention the Jarrow march), and there is a fascinating look at those lucky enough to be able to leave the slums and afford the rent to live on some of the new council housing estates being built at the time. - Unfortunately, there were also many who could not afford the move. In addition, it was interesting to read of the efforts made by builders and building societies to persuade families, many just a fraction better-off financially, that they could achieve the dream of owner-occupation. For some the dream had an unhappy ending, but it was this aspiration to home ownership that gave birth to many of the suburbs with which we are now so familiar.
I have given here only a passing glimpse of what can be found in the book. (The paperback version runs to 766 pages, excluding photographs, bibliography and index).The full list of subjects covered is astounding. There is an impressive section on the British people's reaction to - and in many cases action in - the Spanish Civil War. Many regarded affairs in Spain as foreshadowing the `big one' they knew, in their heart of hearts, would be coming one day. Indeed, as I have already mentioned, all the major events of the decade are here. But what I found perhaps more interesting were the sections dealing with the more commonplace and personal occurrences in people's lives.
Leisure pursuits; the fight for paid holidays; the annual seaside vacation with the guesthouse landlady; the holiday camp; the pub - all have their place here. As does the growth of the' Health and Fitness' mentality and the popularity of the lido. Cinema attendance and radio listening habits are examined and much more. In short, you think of it and the odds are that it is covered to a greater or lesser extent somewhere in this book.
I was left with the impression that people in general during the thirties - some as a result of their own harsh lives, others through hearing with foreboding what was happening in Europe - were much more politically aware than we as a nation are today. What surprised me though was to see the parallels, albeit in diluted form, of those times with today. Here we are teetering on the brink of another depression; politicians as a group are about as ineffectual as ever and, yet again, the great British public has to bear the burden of the desperate attempt to nurture health back into our economy.
Ms Gardiner has marshalled the vast amount of source material used for the `The Thirties' to great effect, resulting in a well organised series of chapters producing an easy to read book that deserves recognition as the definitive popular account of the decade
I have read a few of the reviews, and on balance, it appears that it is very difficult to write a historic book that is both a joy to read and is also completely accurate. I have great admiration for anybody who is willing to take history by the scruff of the neck and drag it kicking and screaming into the twenty-first century. Hence the five stars given to this work.
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