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When the Lights Went Out: Britain in the Seventies Hardcover – 7 May 2009

4.3 out of 5 stars 114 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 592 pages
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber; Main edition (7 May 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 057122136X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571221363
  • Product Dimensions: 16 x 4.7 x 24.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (114 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 554,227 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

The 1970s was the decade that formed my politics and Andy Beckett captures it perfectly. No-one will ever write a better biography of this decade that saw the twilight of social democracy and the beginning of the Thatcher/Reagan era which now too enters its twilight. I just couldn't put it down. --Ken Livingstone<br /><br />What makes this book such an evocative and riveting read is the archival record of an approaching thunderstorm, which he describes vividly and honestly. ... (A) compelling narrative. --Francis Wheen, Literary Review<br /><br />(A) beautifully written and hugely entertaining book. The author has the ability to make the prosaic seem exciting and some of his characters would be at home in a Victorian melodrama. --Roy Hattersley, Daily Telegraph

What makes this book such an evocative and riveting read is the archival record of an approaching thunderstorm, which he describes vividly and honestly. ... (A) compelling narrative. --Francis Wheen, Literary Review

(A) beautifully written and hugely entertaining book. The author has the ability to make the prosaic seem exciting and some of his characters would be at home in a Victorian melodrama. --Roy Hattersley, Daily Telegraph

Review

(A) fabulous book.

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
On page 2 the author writes "I was born in 1969". As someone who took a keen interest in current affairs throughout the 1970s, I prepared myself to spot lots of mistakes from a writer who was only a child. However, the nearest I came to spotting one (not that I was particularly looking for them) was the omission from the index of Ian Paisley, who has a single mention (page 96).
This book turned out to be a thoroughly and scrupulously researched history of that derided decade, mostly political but also touching on matters like pop festivals. It is a detailed analysis, with the benefit of hindsight, from the beginning of the Heath era to the beginning of the Thatcher one. Beckett's list of sources, including books, articles, and TV and radio broadcasts from the time, runs to no less than 25 pages, and the book took 5 years to write. He personally interviewed several major players of the era, including Ted Heath, Denis Healey, Jack Jones (recently deceased), and Arthur Scargill. These interviews, with fascinating descriptions of the characters 30 years on, are particularly delightful. So any idea that someone who had just turned 10 by the end of the decade is unsuited to write such a book must be rejected.
The book is in 4 parts, entitled Optimism, Shocks, New Possibilities, and The Reckoning. The chapter titles are sometimes obscure until the reader has read several pages; "The Great White Ghost" refers to Heath, "Margaret and the Austrians" refers to Thatcher's espousal of the so-called Austrian school of monetarism, while "William the Terrible", which completely mystified me until almost the end of the chapter, refers to the US Treasury Secretary in 1976.
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By A. I. McCulloch TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 24 April 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
It's difficult to believe that Andy Beckett was a child during the period he writes about so effectively. The social history of the Seventies has been well documented. This is not an addition to that canon, despite the cover hinting that it might be.
This is a fascinating book of political history with voices in the pages that have already passed from us. Beckett was insightful enough to realise that age might not necessarily prevent effective reflection and a sizeable chunk of the book is bolstered by the reflections of the late Sir Edward Heath - Beckett must have been one of the last people to interview Ted.

As I write this, the trade unionist Jack Jones has just passed away. Within these pages is an account of how Heath and Jones first met during the Spanish Civil War - Ted the observer, Jack the soldier. It's interesting to reflect on how the respect formed at that time possibly informed political and union negotiations thirty five years later.

I was delighted to discover well-written, insightful accounts of events that my in-laws had been involved with - events barely chronicled elsewhere but recognised by Beckett as being pivotal at the time.

This book was a long time in the writing and it shows - there are no woolly passages, no reverting to cliches. Andy Beckett diligently sought out the right people to speak to, revisited the scenes of events in an attempt to understand what happened years ago and to provide their modern context.

I loved this book. I can't imagine me writing that about many books of political history but it is true of this one.
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By Charles Vasey TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 24 April 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
If The Sixties meant we'd never had it so good (as the Prime Minister told us) then The Seventies were where we paid for our pleasures. But memories of coal strikes, inflation and rotting rubbish in the street on the one hand, and flared trousers and T-Rex on the other don't really count as history - just as memory (and in some case, bad memories). Having had my memory of the period awakened by watching The Red Riding Trilogy I was pleased to read this wide-ranging and thoughtful history of the period. Like all good recent history it resorts the memory of those who lived through it, it adds some perspective to events, and it challenges their inevitability. I had forgotten whole sections of these events and misordered others.

Andy Beckett doesn't just give us the politics: Harold Wilson in his Gannex mac, Grocer Heath's almost tragic mismatch between personality and belief, Sunny Jim Callaghan and a perhaps not yet quite Iron Lady, but certainly galvanised. He also takes us through social change like the rise of Women's Lib and Gay Lib and of environmentalism. Yet at the end of it all one wonders what it was that snapped Britain out of that left-wing consensus into (within a few years) a right-wing semi-consensus. Was it North Sea Oil? Was it just a "changing of the guard"? Or is all politics and economics simply a tidal sea in which trends wash in and wash out.

A very enjoyable and thought-provoking book.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I suppose I'm in a minority, but I found this a rather predictable and plodding account of the decade and ended up skimming it from about a third of the way through. I agree with the other reviewer who called it 'pooterish'. Everytime he has been off to interview one of the people he cites, we have to read about what the weather was like, his journey (who cares if Beckett got picked up at Oxford station and driven in a Mercedes), and some cringe inducing, cliched descriptions of his interviewees faces, eyes, hair etc. The author continually tells us 'I was there, I spoke to Ted Heath, I sat in his garden picking my nose ...' and habitually he drones on about his journeys and the shallow observations they provoke 'I went back to the site of this 1970s event in 2005 and - hey, guess what - the building, landscape, road, people had changed. Well, I never! Profound'. All this waffle and we don't really get very much about the title 'When the lights went out' - those strange, dark days, full of rich tales still to be told. This is history lite, 'researched' from the most accessible sources. And, everything just kind of happens and unfolds. As others have said - there is no analysis, no insight, no critical reflection. It's really 'memories of the 1970s as recounted to me in 2005-06' and mainly by the predictable list of politicians, trade union leaders with very little about the experiences of ordinary people. If you lived through it, and worked in a factory, warehouse and office as I did, I think you'll be disappointed that the experience of the decade from that vantage point has, as usual, been neglected. I can't see this book telling you anything that has not already been said many, many times. Still, it's plastered in quotes from all the book reviewing luvvies in the intelligent person's newspapers, so who am I to quibble?
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