"This is the story of fifty years in which Britain struggled to reconcile the past she could not forget with the future she could not avoid."
So opens Hugo Young's magisterial tour of the U.K.'s troubled relationship with Europe in general and the European Union in particular over the last half of the 20th century. Young, the doyen of liberal political columnists, has chosen to take on this subject at a time when the British Right remains in angry torment over it and the Labour Party appears to have at last made its peace with the Continent and all its works. The book opens with Churchill's putting on record for the first time an outline of a new united Europe, but it ends with Blair's actually "preparing to align the island with its natural hinterland beyond." In between there is a fascinating battle between wide-eyed idealism, brutal realpolitik, and treacherous conspiracy. Young has talked to everyone who matters on both sides of the Channel and elegantly produces a gripping narrative. In British terms, this is the story of half a century of wrecked political careers, ending up most recently with John Major's cataclysmic defeat in 1997. But on the wider stage, this is the story of a great question--Is Britain a European country?--and why Britain found it so difficult to answer. --Nick Wroe, Amazon.co.uk
From Publishers Weekly
With immense knowledge matched by a sure sense of narrative, Young has written the best book yet about Britain's attempt to make sense of itself after its era of empire. He takes a chronological approach, focusing on heads of state and those who carried out their policies, starting, as the subtitle indicates, with Winston Churchill and ending with Tony Blair. For 50 years, he writes, Britain has "struggled to reconcile the past she could not forget with the future she could not avoid." The question that drives the book is whether Britain, with its mythology of exceptionalism (famously expressed by Shakespeare in Richard II, from which Young takes his title), can accept the reality that it will have to become merely another country bound in some sort of European union. In the end, Young predicts, most Britons will accept the reality of alignment with the Continental nations, an acceptance that could have come about far less painfully four decades earlier had Britain's leaders not clung so fiercely to an obsolete sense of imperial grandeur. Readers who enjoyed Young's biography of Thatcher (The Iron Lady) will be glad to learn that he has brought his sharp sense of the intersection of character and policy to his appraisals of major political figures. Young combines the best qualities of a historianAthoroughness, context and a sense of the sweep of timeAwith the best qualities of a journalistAaccessibility, skepticism and pungent judgment.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.