From Publishers Weekly
Noted British historian Cannadine (Class in Britain, etc.) gathers a dozen essays on modern British history, covering the era from 1875 (the zenith of British power) to the present (when that power is far diminished). Several of these essays, such as "Statecraft: The Haunting Fear of National Decline," deal with Britain's reaction to her own global decline. In "Statecraft," Cannadine describes how three of Britain's leading modern politicians, Joseph Chamberlain, Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher (all "heroic egotists, possessed of a powerful, obsessive, unreflective sense of messianic self-identity") struggled unsuccessfully against diminishing national power. Each had a glorious view of Britain's past and tried to reconcile that past with a less glorious present. Cannadine is especially fascinated by Churchill, devoting one essay to the great man's use of rhetoric. As Cannadine points out, Churchill's speeches were always magnificent, but often ignored (except during WWII, when "[t]he drama of the time had suddenly become fully equal to the drama of his tone"). There is also a fine essay on the Chamberlain family, Joseph and his sons, Austen and Neville, and how they dominated politics in Birmingham for nearly 80 years. The final part of this collection deals with cultural icons, from Gilbert and Sullivan and Nol Coward to Ian Fleming, and describes their reactions to national decline. Each, as Cannadine delineates, was patriotic, harking back to the glorious age of British power. Cannadine's collection gathers together a group of sometimes provocative, always accessible and thoroughly researched essays that are sure to enlighten those devoted to British history.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.
"A group of sometimes provocative, always accessible and thoroughly researched essays that are sure to enlighten those devoted to British history."--Publishers Weekly
"It is a tribute to Cannadine's gifts that while mining a relatively small, well-dug territory, he can continue to turn up large, near-flawless gems.... Apart from the solid good judgment, the expert marshalling of resources, the sheer professionalism, there is something special that does distinguish all of Cannadine's work and it's on magnificent display here. It is an almost anthropological feeling for the way in which people construct themselves and perceive their place in the world--their nation, region, city, class, gender--by reference to the past."--Financial Times
"Cannadine is actually presenting us with a selection of essays rather than a meditation on the Churchill legacy, but he justifies the notion by a shrewd choice of subjects that do, indeed, mark the passing of the Churchillian epoch.... In an excellent analysis of his political rhetoric, Cannadine shows how often the old boy was rightly written off as a demagogue and an alarmist.... Elsewhere in this enjoyable assemblage are solid background essays on the Chamberlain dynasty, and two particularly clever pieces on the contrasting careers and works of Ian Fleming and Noel Coward."--Christopher Hitchens, Washington Post Book World
"Zestfully and gracefully written, compulsively readable, and full of sagacious insights about big questions."--Fred Leventhal
"Cannadine makes a number of worthwhile forays, and his best chapters display his well-earned reputation for lively writing and provocative thinking."--Boston Globe