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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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