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Austerity Britain, 1945-1951 (Tales of a New Jerusalem) Paperback

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Product Details

  • Series: Tales of a New Jerusalem
  • Paperback: 704 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC (October 6, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0747599238
  • ISBN-13: 978-0747599234
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #721,332 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. 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)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From The New Yorker

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 housing—seven hundred and fifty thousand dwellings had been damaged in the war, and six million lacked indoor toilets. Kynaston’s account of the six years of Labour Government that followed attends as much to daily life—often grim, with rationing still in effect—as 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 people’s complex feelings about the policies undertaken in their name.
Copyright ©2008Click here to subscribe to The New Yorker --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
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I might have enjoyed this work very much had not the disorganization made reading it so very laborious to plod through.
C. J. Thompson
While it is as thorough -- or more -- as any academic textbook, it reads more like a highly detailed, multi-authored journal or catalog of the period.
Peter Lorenzi
Richly detailed, superbly written, and supplemented with excellent photographs, Kynaston's book is an outstanding account of postwar Britain.
Mark Klobas

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

43 of 43 people found the following review helpful By Mark Klobas VINE VOICE on May 13, 2008
Format: Hardcover
David Kynaston begins his book, the first of a planned multi-volume survey of Britain, on a high note by chronicling the celebrations of V-E Day. It is a joyous starting point for his ambitious goal, which is to chart the evolution of the nation from the end of the Second World War to the election of Margaret Thatcher's Conservative government in 1979. It is an era that began with the commitment to nationalizing industries and creating the modern welfare state and ended with a government winning power with a promise to undo many of these programs, and Kynaston plans to show how the country developed over this period. This he does by focusing on the people who lived in those times, drawing from the early work of Mass-Observation, contemporary press accounts and the private writings of diarists to provide a sprawling portrait of Britain in the late 1940s.

What particularly stands out is how much different the nation was back then. The Britain that emerges from these pages is a nation driven by an industrial economy, with an overwhelmingly white and predominantly male workforce in physically demanding jobs producing a quarter of the world's manufactured goods. The everyday lives of these Britons was different as well, lacking not only the modern conveniences that the author notes early in the text but even many of the basics of prewar life, basics which had been sacrificed to the exigencies of war. Kynaston notes their growing frustration with ongoing scarcity, a frustration that illustrated the gulf between their harsh realities and the idealistic dreams of government planners that is a persistent theme of the book.

Richly detailed, superbly written, and supplemented with excellent photographs, Kynaston's book is an outstanding account of postwar Britain.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Peter Lorenzi on September 12, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Written for a British eye more than for an American, this American learned a stronger respect for the people of Britain for the way they won the war and then won back their share of industry and prosperity. Having won a glorious victory, within hours the victorious citizens of the country that sustained almost six years of war following on a prolonged depression realized that the trials of war time would be extended by the austerity of post-war Europe. While England won the war, they paid a high price. More important, the collective, heroic efforts of the large working class produced a tide of enthusiasm for nationalisation of industry, housing to replace the hundreds of thousands displaced by German bombing, and a broad social welfare plan focusing primarily on health care.

It is not a pretty story. Post-war England was drab, lacking many basics, watching its empire dissolve, and driven by a strong, centralized plan to restore the economy that changed the basic way people looked at business and government. And, with the continuing pressures of rebuilding the rest of Europe, the threat of further communist expansion, and the rise of American power, perhaps Britain went too far in moving towards a benevolent but often clumsy and experimental form of socialism. It would be almost another forty years and the decisions of the Thatcher government, that saw the maturity and, in some cases, the reversal of this social and cultural experiment.

This is a long, dense and colorful book, full of first-person details and observations, many of them from the surveys and observations of the government itself. Chapters focus on various aspects of the cultural and social revolution, in the classroom, on the factory floor, in the (mine) pits, in the shops, in the media, and more.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Thomas M. Sullivan on August 30, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I bought this book at the same time I purchased Peter Clarke's marvelous "The Last Thousand Days of the British Empire" on what I thought the reasonable assumption that it might provide the social history complement to Clarke's account of the geopolitical death rattles of the Empire following the war. That it precisely served that function better than I could have imagined does not in any way diminish its value as a brilliant stand-alone analysis of everyday life in post-war Britain that will certainly never be duplicated in either its scholarship or compass. Kynaston weaves an incredibly rich fabric of first-person accounts and commentaries ranging from housewives to the Labour party's leadership to incipient and established entertainers to sports stars and innumerable others high and low on the social scale, each citation perfectly apt and illustrative in its context. The reader feels he is living the period, suffering with the deprived homemaker, hoping against experience with the coal miner, sensing pitfalls to the social planning completely unanticipated at the time, and generally acquiring an understanding of those years that completely supplants everything one thought one knew of the subject. The book is a bit of a slog what with over 600 pages of text, and in my experience, there are very few works of this size that are worth the time and effort. Be assured that this is one of them and that every reader is looking forward to the promised sequel covering the years 1953-79. Social history, indeed, history, doesn't get much better than this.
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