From Publishers Weekly
Kynaston (author of the four-volume The City of London
) has produced an extraordinary panorama of Britain as it emerged from the tumult of war with a broken empire, a bankrupt economy and an ostensibly socialist government. Britain between 1945 and 1951 is an alien place. No washing machines, no highways, no supermarkets. Everything was heavy, from coins and suitcases to coats and shoes. Everything edible was rationed: tea, meat, butter, cheese, jam, eggs, candy. The awfulness of 1939–1945 still lingered, and any conversation tended to drift toward the war, like an animal licking a sore place. Yet, people assumed Britain was still best: that was so deeply part of how citizens thought, it was taken for granted. By combining astute political analysis with illustrative anecdotes brilliantly chosen from contemporary newspapers, popular culture and memoirs, Kynaston succeeds in recreating the lost world of austerity. The volume represents social history at its finest, and readers may look forward to its promised sequels taking the story of Britain up to 1979 and the election of Margaret Thatcher. 20 b&w photos. (May)
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Drawing on a remarkable array of diaries, letters, memoirs, and surveys, Kynaston assembles a polyphonic history of a pivotal time. In July, 1945, Winston Churchill was swept from office in an electoral landslide, his wartime leadership already overshadowed by domestic worries like jobs and housingseven hundred and fifty thousand dwellings had been damaged in the war, and six million lacked indoor toilets. Kynastons account of the six years of Labour Government that followed attends as much to daily lifeoften grim, with rationing still in effectas to the top-down reconstruction that included the creation of the National Health Service and the nationalization of swaths of British industry. Support for such planning was broad, with even the arch-establishment Times of London in favor of the N.H.S., but not always deep, and Kynaston emphasizes the British peoples complex feelings about the policies undertaken in their name.
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