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Family Britain 1951-1957 [Paperback]

David Kynaston
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

Aug. 24 2010 Tales of a New Jerusalem
As in Austerity Britain, an astonishing array of vivid, intimate and unselfconscious voices drive this narrative. The keen-eyed Nella Last shops assiduously at Barrow Market as austerity and rationing gradually give way to relative abundance; housewife Judy Haines, relishing the detail of suburban life, brings up her children in Chingford; and, the self-absorbed civil servant Henry St John perfects the art of grumbling. These and many other voices give a rich, unsentimental picture of everyday life in the 1950s. We also encounter well-known figures on the way, such as Doris Lessing (joining and later leaving the Communist Party), John Arlott (sticking up on Any Questions? for the rights of homosexuals) and Tiger's Roy of the Rovers (making his goal-scoring debut for Melchester). All this is part of a colourful, unfolding tapestry, in which the great national events - the Tories returning to power, the death of George VI, the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth, the Suez Crisis - jostle alongside everything that gave Britain in the 1950s its distinctive flavour: Butlin's holiday camps, Kenwood food mixers, "Hancock's Half-Hour", Ekco television sets, Davy Crockett, skiffle and teddy boys. Deeply researched, David Kynaston's "Family Britain" offers an unrivalled take on a largely cohesive, ordered, still very hierarchical society gratefully starting to move away from the painful hardships of the 1940s towards domestic ease and affluence.

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Review

PRAISE FOR AUSTERITY BRITAIN: 'This wonderful volume is only the first in a series that will take us to 1979 and the election of Margaret Thatcher. When complete, Kynaston's skill in mixing eyewitness accounts and political analysis will surely be one of the greatest and most enduring publishing ventures for generations.' Brian Thompson, Observer 'Even readers who can remember the years Kynaston writes about will find they are continually surprised by the richness and diversity of his material ... mouth-watering' John Carey, Sunday Times 'The book is a marvel ... the level of detail is precise and fascinating' John Campbell, Sunday Telegraph 'A wonderfully illuminating picture of the way we were' Roy Hattersley, The Times

About the Author

David Kynaston was born in Aldershot in 1951. He has been a professional historian since 1973 and has written fifteen books, including The City of London (1994-2001), a widely acclaimed four-volume history, and W.G.'s Birthday Party, an account of the Gentleman vs. the Players at Lord's in July 1898. He is the author of Austerity Britain, 1945-51, the first title in a series of books covering the history of post-war Britain (1945-1979) under the collective title 'Tales of a New Jerusalem'. He is currently a visiting professor at Kingston University.

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4.0 out of 5 stars Family Britain 1951-1957 Dec 27 2011
By SueB
Format:Paperback
This book took me into 'known territory'. This was my childhood era. It, like 'Austerity Britain', gave me an understanding of why we were the way we were at that time and place in history. The difference in this book is that I can remember so many of the places, social and political events and reactions of the adults around me.
A fascinating read and I hope there is another sequel!
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.3 out of 5 stars  7 reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It All, Wonderfully, Adds Up Feb. 13 2010
By Thomas M. Sullivan - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This second in one hopes will be a continuing series of marvelous portrayals of Britain in the post-World War II years takes up where "Austerity Britain, 1945-1951 (Tales of a New Jerusalem)" leaves off and doesn't miss a resonating beat in doing so. Author Kynaston's History-writing technique is to my mind the equivalent of "pointillism" in painting (see, e.g., Georges Seurat's "Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte") wherein Kynaston's hundreds, if not thousands, of scrupulously arranged and presented vignettes and first-person recollections combine to produce the same effect as Seurat's tiny dabs of paint: when considered alone, they convey little meaning, but in combination they counter-intuitively evoke a richer and more compelling picture than the most carefully crafted narrative or masterful brush strokes.

I believe it important to read these books in series because "Austerity Britain" recounts the back-and-forth of the historic governmental initiatives underlying the formation of the British "welfare state" whereas "Family Britain" is more a sociological study highlighting the evolving effects of these fundamental changes and the glacial pace of the lifting of wartime rationing, the snail's progress of just-around-the-corner prosperity, etc. Taken together, they are simply an unparalled portrayal of the country and its people resolutely striving to recover from their literally existential trials.

Finally, as quite an old guy, I couldn't help but grow a little whimsical when reading this account of Britain's difficult 50's. I was a boy during the same period, growing up in Schenectady, NY, and as I was prompted to reflect on the decade, I was reminded that it was the last extended period of my life when things seemed to make sense. Those younger will have been taught that they were sleepy, dull years when nothing much happened. True. And you don't know what you missed.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A rich panorama of 1950s Britain Dec 5 2009
By Mark Klobas - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
In the early 1950s Great Britain was a nation in transition. On the one hand it was still an imperial power, a workshop to much of the world, a land with a tradition-bound patriarchal society. Yet on the other it was seeing the first results of the many social and economic changes underway, with the clearing of the Victorian-era slums, the growing challenges of a multi-racial population, and the rapid proliferation of television just some of the signs pointing to the future that was to come. This transition and the people who faced it are the subjects of David Kynaston's book, which chronicles life in Britain between the Festival of Britain in 1951 and Prime Minister Anthony Eden's resignation six years later.

In many respects Kynaston's book is less a narrative of these years than a panorama that allows the reader to take in details both large and small. Through them he depicts the emergence of what he calls a "proto-consumerist" society from years of rationing and deprivation. As Britain shook off the postwar austerity, its citizens embraced the burgeoning prosperity as their due after their years of sacrifice. As Kynaston demonstrates it was a reward enjoyed by a broader swath of society than ever before, yet as more people enjoyed the benefits of prosperity a growing number of concerns were expressed about the damage being done to society, of the breakdown of communities and the rebelliousness of youth.

Kynaston recounts these years in a sympathetic and perceptive manner. Seemingly nothing is too insignificant to escape his attention, while his ability to draw significance from these trivial facts supplies added depth his account of the events and developments of the era. Yet his narrative never bogs down in the facts, transitioning smoothly from one topic to another without ever losing his reader's interest. The result is a magnificent work, a worthy sequel to his earlier volume, Austerity Britain, 1945-1951 (Tales of a New Jerusalem), and one that will leave its readers eager for the next installment in his "Tales of a New Jerusalem" series.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great store of facts, less-great store of bias Feb. 11 2013
By Les carbonnades flamandes - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Both 'Austerity Britain' and 'Family Britain' are very readable, and much of the ease and attraction is automatic for British readers of my age(67). However, after a while I became aware that this huge collection of memories and surveys and MO diaries also has a slant:
First, that the huge majority of "ordinary" lives described are ordinary working-class lives; I saw very little, proportionally, about the middle classes.
Secondly, Kynaston slips in regular small asides that tend to discredit the previous 50 years of social studies. Specifically, that notions such as working-class solidarity and community are false and romantic fictions invented by left-of-centre historians and imposed from the outside. Further, that Labour governments and Labour policies and projects were inherently unworkable or unsuccessful, but no Conservative government or policy or project is subjecyed to criticism. The slant is made more blatant because the period 1951 to 1957, the ambit of this book, covers seven years of Conservative rule to one year of Labour rule.

If the ongoing series had in its introduction frankly described the work as uncovering the failures of Labour and socialist theory in Britain, that would be fair. But it did not. The books present themselves as straight factual history, which they are not.

But don't despair --- they are a terrific informative read.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Part of it March 13 2010
By Reginald H. Seally - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
"Family Britain" by Kynaston is undoubtedly a comprehensive, country-wide history of the major, and many minor, happenings of the postwar period covered by this and its predecessor "Austerity Britain". But the commentators and Mass Observation investigators are almost wholly middle class people. Nothing wrong with that, but where are the comments from street sweepers, demobbed servicemen, and working men from the engineering shop floor and the miners at the coalface? Bevan was their idol.
The book was an interesting reminder of many 'establishment' and political dealings, but these rarely 'reached down' to those workers seeking to attain their own home, get a better education, see the end of food and petrol rationing, and perhaps get a tv. set, and maybe one day even have a fridge, washing machine and phone, let alone even think of an overseas holiday.
These were formative years, with many happy memories recalled by the book - from civil defence messenger boy, naval war service, through 'demob' to cycling to night school for engineering qualifications, Festival of Britain, witnessing the Farnborough crash, first car, and eventually emigration to Australia which fulfilled opportunities to escape a still tired and hide-bound Britain as the book comes to its end..
5.0 out of 5 stars Insightful Summary of family life in post-war Britain. March 8 2014
By Elizabeth Smellie - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
David Kynaston is a master at his craft. This follow-up on "Austerity Britain" gave further insight into family life as it was after WWII. At the age of four until I was 10 - I lived in South Wales. I was completely unaware of the hardships my parents went through. Rabbit and tripe were part of the family staple diet - loved the rabbit - hated the tripe! Birthday parties were celebrated and I now wonder how my mother managed to provide a birthday and trifle for my young friends and gifts for me. We were a typical middle class family. Dad was de-mobbed in 1946 and as my mother had lived with her parents after the war, he now had to provide a home for his family. I remember him telling the story of almost coming to blows with the man building his detached house because the price kept going up. My mother had to beg for pink paint for the "baby's" (me) bedroom as it was a rarity to find anything other than white/or cream paint.
Trip to the beach on cold windy days - sitting on the sand in sweaters and holding umbrellas to shield against the wind were also a part of my memories of that time. I also remember bomb craters around Cardiff docks that were still waiting to be filled in and rubble on some of the streets where building that had fallen to the Luftwaff still had to be cleared.
Mr. Kynastons book brings back all these memories so vividly and fills in many of the blanks that, owing to my youth,
I hadn't realised.
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