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on 15 November 2010
I enjoyed this book of the history of our times. I say "our times" because Wilson was born in 1951 (5 years before me). As a read it is great almost all the way through. As history, it has some flaws, as other reviewers have noticed.

Wilson is unafraid to express very personal and very pointed opinions: Mountbatten as a rather stupid "elderly popinjay" with a taste for naval ratings; Nehru as the lover of not only Mountbatten's Jewish wife, Edwina, but Mountbatten himself; (Michael) Portillo as "a blubber-lipped bisexual" etc. His views are expressed in a way that might be called Swiftian, not often seen today.

I agreed with much of what he wrote, though certainly not all. That is not the point. The point surely is that here we have a sweep of contemporary history running notionally from 1953 though mostly from 1956 (the year of Khrushchev's Secret Speech, The Hungarian Uprising, Suez and, co-incidentally, my own year of birth).

There are huge gaps in Wilson's narrative, certainly. I saw little or nothing of the non-mainstream political parties (National Front, British National Party, nor even Militant, the CPGB or the WRP etc). There is nothing (though actually I applaud that, really) of sporting events, which may be the new "opiate of the people", along with pop/rock "music" and TV shows such as "the X Factor" etc.

Wilson makes a lot of points about the changes to political life and quite a few personal comments and observations about the various prime ministers.

Wilson devotes quite a lot of space to the Royal Family, of most of whom he thoroughly disapproves, because of their famed philistinism and boorishness. It might have been more honest for a footnote to have explained that Wilson was once (and probably remains) blacklisted by the royals because of innocuous remarks of the Queen made to him at dinner at Windsor Castle in the 1980's, which remarks he retailed in his (I think Evening Standard) newspaper column. A protocol no-no.

The author is kinder to Prince Charles than to the other royals, though he (surely rightly?) does note that Charles' useful work in areas like organic farming and animal welfare has been largely discounted by the public because he, Charles, is so very very spoiled and, well, petty. Wilson notes Charles' complaint about having had to lower himself to go Business Class (free of charge, of course...) from Hong Kong to London once. Well I had to go Economy from Hong Kong to Paris about four years ago and it was Hell with a capital "H" AND I had to pay for it. I think that many members of the public just shake their heads when they read about how Charles has 7 eggs boiled and chooses the one with the best consistency. A pity, because Charles also has a lot of useful things to say, albeit rarely original (Wilson is quite wrong to say that Charles made organic farming known. That is a joke. It has been quite mainstream since the 1960's and fully mainstream since about 1990).

I did learn quite a few facts hitherto unknown to me and was therefore quite shocked to read that many of the "policemen" employed at flashpoints during the Miners' Strike of the early 1980's were not police at all but notionally enrolled military personnel from the Military Police, Special Air Service and Green Jackets. That really did surprise me.

There are a number of what I would like to think are typographical and/or editorial rather than author's errors in this book. Among others, that Jomo Kenyatta's policy in the Kenya of the 1960's was one of "Americanization" (it was "Africanization"), that a sentence was "squashed" (the correct term is "quashed") and that the case against Jeremy Thorpe was pursued to trial by the Crown Prosecution Service (not so, the trial was held in 1979, whereas the CPS was only founded in 1985 and started operating in 1986).

One point Wilson made which is obviously spiteful (albeit understandable perhaps) is his statement that "Lord" Jeffrey Archer went to school not at Wellington College, as he had claimed for years, but in a village called Wellington in Somerset. That is true, but Wellington School in the eponymous village is a respected school, I believe, in that county. The comment is too catty for my taste.

I do agree with Wilson that one feature of the often-ghastly punk-rock people was their Englishness and I do also concur with his view that, far from hating England, they loved it (even if only subconsciously). As Rebecca West said (The Meaning Of Treason) of "Lord Haw Haw", "it was his love of England, slanting across Time, that made him a traitor", which may well have been true: "The great despisers are also the great reverers" (Nietzsche, Also Sprach Zarathustra).

Despite the numerous errors and plainly personal and/or "old maiden aunt" nature of some of the writing, I did like the book. It brought at least much of the past half century or so to life. Above all, I do think that Wilson is right to say that "Britannia is dead". He believes, in other words, that the Britain of 1953 has not so much evolved into a different but the same entity today (in the manner suggested by George Orwell in one of his essays) but has been supplanted by another, different, nation (which is scarcely a nation at all). I have some sympathy with both views. My own would be a synthesis though Wilson would no doubt say that that is impossible. My own view of the world situation as a whole as a "dead end" (thus requiring a quantum leap or "revaluation of all values") was expressed in my own (unpublished) early 1990's book The End Of The Millenium And The New Age Of Alexander.

In the end, a good read, with much useful and interesting material; keeps the interest, too. So, overall, recommended.
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on 29 December 2010
An enjoyable journey through British modern history from 1953 to 2008.
The range is wide covering political, social and cultural history. I read this book after reading the author's previous volumes - The Victorians and After the Victorians. I often question how you can be sure what exactly did happen in history; who do you believe and where did their information come from?
I wondered how many people were actually involved in writing this book. For example, on page 94 (2008 hard back edition) he correctly tells us that Derek Bentley was hung for a murder committed by his younger accomplice Christopher Craig but on page 183 we are told incorrectly that Bentley pulled the trigger and it was Craig who called out 'Let him have it'.
OK this is nit picking but, if such easily checked events can be incorrectly recorded, it makes one wonder about all the rest.
However, this is a broad sweep of modern history in a single volume and well worth a read.
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on 22 November 2008
What you would expect from A N Wilson, an easy and sometimes humorous read of happenings of "Our Times"
All history is written from a biased view (and Wilson is no exception), would you expect a protestant historian to write on the Reformation in the same vein as a catholic writer?
Wilson in all his factual books makes the reader hunger for more information on some subjects which deserve more space and in depth research, this is not a bad thing; the bibliography is very good for making further queries.
One point, why do we have to have "Notes" at the end of the book? I much prefer footnotes on each page. The constant turning to the rear of the book can be a distraction.
As far as I am concerned a good book well worth the purchasing.
What now,is there to be a book from Wilson on the "Future" ?
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on 1 October 2008
This is the most absurd book of history I have ever read. Wilson is ruthlessly judgemental, sloppy with his dates, casual in his disdain for the niceties of 'proper' history, and his book is brilliant.

In his lucid, digressive style, Wilson delineates an alternately hilarious and devastating analysis of the major events - political, cultural, religious - in British life over the last sixty years. It induced in me convulsions of sadness, laughter, and anger, and I only wish other historians had the temerity - not to mention the learning - to deliver a book of this standard.
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on 27 February 2010
A.N. Wilson is not especially intelligent. And he is a hopeless historian. His views on how history teaching should be taught in schools is revealing:

'What is striking (about the Runnymede Trust's vision of a national past) is its negativity. Would... teachers have told children, as earlier generations were told, that Cromwell was the hero of modern republicanism, and the builder up of the British navy? Would they have been told that the Glorious Revolution saved Britain from becoming a Bourbon style monarchical dictatorship, shackled to an intolerant Roman Catholicism...'

So he goes on, depicting a vision of pedagogy that requires teacher to dictate a fixed (and highly prescribed) version of 'our Island story' to passively imbibing children.

Irrespective of whether this is a viable method of teaching nowadays, it is deeply insulting to both teacher and student. I am a history teacher, and firmly believe that the whole purpose of education is to encourage to think about the history they learn. To develop their critical faculties to they develop an understanding of how history really works: by unintended consequence, by debate, by accident, by unexpected change. Wilson would have us all become drones of a ministry of 'Island Story', repeating the same spiel ad nauseam about Britain's glorious past, thus his contriubtion to the history education debate becomes another tired salvo in the tedious ingratiating multiculturalists v safe traditionalists debate.

Our children deserve better.

But, as I said at the start, Wilson is not especially intelligent - his prose lacks the piercing, rigorously argued insight of more sophisticated non-fiction. And he is a pretty hopeless historian.

But enough of his flaws. On to his strengths. And there are many. Wilson is hugely well educated and, a rare thing amongst modern journalists in Britain, very well read (he is one of the few people alive nowdays to have read all of Walter Scott for instance). He is also a first rate gossip. This fascinating, sometimes funny, sometimes plain barmy history of modern Britain is something no academic historian could ever produce. Wilson produces a highly odd synthesis of cultural totems (such as the Lord of the Rings and Phillip Pullman's Dark Materials), with forgotten British society stories - such as Doris Day being introduced as 'Diana Clunt by the flustered vicar of Swindon; and highly personal political analysis - he lambasts Roy Wilson as the hapless 'Woy' throughout, and has contempt for pretty much every political figure of 'Our Times', to produce a wonderful rant about modern life.

Not everyone would agree with Wilson's analysis - that a loss of Christian faith has led to a deep spiritual vacuum in modern life, where traditional values have been usurped by a multicultural hotch potch of mediocrity, murder (the Stephen Lawrence case comes in for interesting scrutiny) and junk food. He has old fashioned manners of speech - calling the poor 'lumpenproletariat', taking the term from Marx, for instance.

But he is not simply the old fashioned conservative who believes everything was better in the past either. He picks up on Harold MacMillan's hypocricies - opposing the Apartheid regime in South Africa, yet hardly countenancing the idea of blacks turning up on one of his shooting weekend. And he is happy to puncture the follies of free market right as well as socialist left.

In fact, hardly anyone assault in this scathing, at times ranting depiction of Britain in its post-Imperial decline years. It mixes high politics with tart gossip, thus making it far easier bedtime reading than many academic tomes of the period. And it is much better than Wilson's own journalism for the Daily Mail, in which he drones on about how single mothers should be steralised and the usual pap to fulfil the editorial requirements of the popular press.
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on 8 August 2012
Disappointing.

I lived through most of this period and found A.N.Wilson's 'history' highly subjective, biased and somewhat annoying. At least it read well, but I kept tripping over parts that were obviously his own (highly partisan) opinions - this didn't seem like the same 50+ years (in the same country) that I lived though. This filtering of the facts made me reluctant to take the bits I was unfamiliar with on face value.

Each chapter was also rambling and somewhere chaotic, as though he'd brain-dumped everything onto an audio recording and then turned that into print without much editting or reorganisation. The chapter on 'The return of God' seemed to be rather wishful thinking and descended into opinion/rant/abuse, without much attempt to include historical fact or other such boring detail. It could have been an interesting comparison of the changing face of faith and secularism over the period - but it wasn't.

So, if you are in tune with the author's obvious admiration for Margaret Thatcher and other right-leaning views, then this will probably validate your views of the period since 1953. However, if you want an even-handed attempt to present the history of the UK over the last 60 years or so, this ain't it.
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on 8 November 2008
Not a history book.A.N. Wilson shares with us his opinions and prejudices about life in the past fiftyfive years. He does not let matters of recorded fact stand in his way.

Since all the events described took place in my lifetime, and I have my own opinions and prejudices, plus an interest in facts, Ifound this book of interest only for the insight it gave me into the thought processes of Mr Wilson. Not a topic of any great interest to me.
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on 29 September 2013
I really enjoyed reading this stimulating and thought provoking work. The writing is always informative, never becomes tedious or trivial and moves forward at a good pace. I really liked the mix of politics, culture and personal insight that shapes the writing into a very distinctive style.Easy to read, but by no means superficial.This is the first book I have read by this author, but having enjoyed it so much I intend to read more.
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on 18 July 2010
I thoroughly enjoyed The Victorians and felt in that book Wilson just about got the balance right: history and opinion sitting easily together. Our Times gets it all wrong. Wilson comes across as a prurient, eccentric, right wing bigot, raving against immigration and the loss of the English culture. This is journalism (and poor journalism at that) dressed up as history. It's a lazy book that sells a good writer short.
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on 1 March 2009
Wilson's hodge podge look at 'Our Times' skates over important issues in his snide polemical work. Not that I mind polemics just that they need to be argued elsewhere. The book is full of of backbiting comments about the personality of those involved in the times we've lived through and although entertaining in the saloon bar they are not the stuff of history. I struggled to get through it and have now consigned it to the bin. Wilson's book will be remembered when Macaulay and Gibbon are long forgotten - but not 'til then.
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