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Family Britain, 1951-1957 Hardcover – December 22, 2009

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Family Britain, 1951-1957 + Austerity Britain, 1945-1951 + Modernity Britain: 1957-1962
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Following U.K. bestseller Austerity Britain 1945–1951, this is the second title in historian Kynaston's series on postwar Britain. It was an eventful time. A BBC survey conducted after King George VI's death in 1952 found the lower classes were upset that news of his death disrupted their favorite radio programs. The media was saturated with news of Elizabeth II's coronation as well as Princess Margaret's affair with a divorced man. The new Tory Home Secretary gave prosecuting homosexuals the highest priority; the end of meat and butter rationing in 1954 after 14 years caused jubilation; there was a 1955 national rail strike; and Ruth Ellis swung from the gallows for murdering her cheating, abusive socialite lover. Kynaston makes excellent use of personal diaries from housewives, civil servants, and the famous, all struggling with personal lives as they voice opinions on issues of the day (priceless letters by novelist Kingsley Amis show him knocking Dylan Thomas to poet Philip Larkin). As Kynaston juggles a staggering number of sources, he gives us an audaciously intimate, rich, and atmospheric history that is so real, you can just about taste it. Photos. (Jan.)
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From Booklist

Picking up where the much-lauded Austerity Britain, 1945–1951 (2008) left off, Kynaston’s latest presents a panoramic view of a transformative period. The Conservatives were in power, the ration system was ending, unemployment was nil, and the masses were increasingly glued to the tele. Leading us on an immersive tour of headlines and correspondence, diaries and sociological studies, Kynaston narrates moments and motifs both great and small, among them the Festival of Britain, Council housing, the queen’s coronation, pub culture, Kingsley Amis, smog, labor strikes, skiffle, the “colour bar,” grammar schools, football, the Suez Crisis, young Mick Jagger, and the BBC. It is a sensitive portrayal, emphasizing the feelings and perceptions of those who were there, but Kynaston’s is not an uncritical approach; as the author suggests, the decade’s “instinctive retreat to familiar ways, familiar rituals, familiar relations” occurred “in the context of only very slowly lifting austerity and uncomfortably limited material resources.” Robustly researched and engagingly written with a light wit, this selection will leave readers looking forward to future installments on the Macmillan years and beyond. --Brendan Driscoll

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Product Details

  • Series: Family Britain
  • Hardcover: 784 pages
  • Publisher: Walker & Company (December 22, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802717977
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802717979
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 2.6 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #497,717 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Thomas M. Sullivan on February 13, 2010
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.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By MarkK VINE VOICE on December 5, 2009
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.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Reginald H. Seally on March 13, 2010
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..
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Les carbonnades flamandes on February 11, 2013
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.
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