Family Britain 1951-1957 Paperback – Aug 24 2010
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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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A fascinating read and I hope there is another sequel!
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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..