Historian and essayist David Cannadine promises, in his introduction to History in Our Time
, a "festive and high-spirited" book--and he delivers. This collection of 30 essays focusing on 19th- and 20th-century England is not only supported by the Oxford-educated Cannadine's authoritative grasp of historical fact, but graced with a sharp sense of humor that at times makes one think of H.L. Mencken crossed with P.G. Wodehouse. Cannadine serves up serious history, yet it's never solemn. "If George III had died younger or gone mad sooner," Cannadine reflects, "his sons would have had much greater opportunities to enjoy and consolidate their debauched and self-indulgent idea of monarchy." The essays deal with three main themes: the monarchy, sketches of notable Britons (including Churchill, Thatcher, MacMillan, and writer John Buchan), and, in a section titled "Hindsight's Insights," examinations of how the English regard such matters as divorce, privacy, class, and morals. These essays were written between 1988 and 1997, and Cannadine is often at his best when examining (and skewering) what he regards as the pompous follies of the Thatcher years. One of the most recent essays in the book, written in the days following the death of Princess Diana, is remarkable for its analysis of her life, the mass reaction to her death, and what it all means for the future of her sons and for England itself. --Robert McNamara
From Publishers Weekly
Cannadine intends this to be a "festive and high-spirited book," and while it may not live up to those particular adjectives, it remains an entertaining read for those interested in the history of Britain over the past 100 years. The 30 essays collected here all began as book reviews written for various periodicals (chiefly the London Review of Books, the New York Review of Books and the New Republic) in the years 1988 through 1997. Taking the book in question as a starting point, Cannadine puts the subject in a larger historical context, from finding parallels between Margaret Thatcher and Florence Nightingale to explaining Britain's rising divorce rate. In the first third of the book, "Royals in Toils," Cannadine (The Decline and Fall of the British Aristocracy) makes a convincing case that although the monarchy may be evolving, in many ways it has remained "remarkably consistent and unchanging" for the past 200 years. For the most part, Cannadine provides enough context to make this book accessible to the general reader, though it's debatable whether many will be as interested in English M.P. Robert Boothby or historian A.J.P. Taylor as in, say, Nightingale, Churchill or Oswald Mosley. Reading these essays in succession, the reader will pick up not only on a certain amount of factual repetition but on a sameness of structure. These essays are better savored "in moderation," as the author himself suggests, in order to appreciate his insights and wit.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.