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Austerity Britain, 1945-1951 Hardcover – May 13, 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Kynaston (author of the four-volume The City of London) has produced an extraordinary panorama of Britain as it emerged from the tumult of war with a broken empire, a bankrupt economy and an ostensibly socialist government. Britain between 1945 and 1951 is an alien place. No washing machines, no highways, no supermarkets. Everything was heavy, from coins and suitcases to coats and shoes. Everything edible was rationed: tea, meat, butter, cheese, jam, eggs, candy. The awfulness of 1939–1945 still lingered, and any conversation tended to drift toward the war, like an animal licking a sore place. Yet, people assumed Britain was still best: that was so deeply part of how citizens thought, it was taken for granted. By combining astute political analysis with illustrative anecdotes brilliantly chosen from contemporary newspapers, popular culture and memoirs, Kynaston succeeds in recreating the lost world of austerity. The volume represents social history at its finest, and readers may look forward to its promised sequels taking the story of Britain up to 1979 and the election of Margaret Thatcher. 20 b&w photos. (May)
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From The New Yorker
Drawing on a remarkable array of diaries, letters, memoirs, and surveys, Kynaston assembles a polyphonic history of a pivotal time. In July, 1945, Winston Churchill was swept from office in an electoral landslide, his wartime leadership already overshadowed by domestic worries like jobs and housingseven hundred and fifty thousand dwellings had been damaged in the war, and six million lacked indoor toilets. Kynastons account of the six years of Labour Government that followed attends as much to daily lifeoften grim, with rationing still in effectas to the top-down reconstruction that included the creation of the National Health Service and the nationalization of swaths of British industry. Support for such planning was broad, with even the arch-establishment Times of London in favor of the N.H.S., but not always deep, and Kynaston emphasizes the British peoples complex feelings about the policies undertaken in their name.
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It is not a pretty story. Post-war England was drab, lacking many basics, watching its empire dissolve, and driven by a strong, centralized plan to restore the economy that changed the basic way people looked at business and government. And, with the continuing pressures of rebuilding the rest of Europe, the threat of further communist expansion, and the rise of American power, perhaps Britain went too far in moving towards a benevolent but often clumsy and experimental form of socialism. It would be almost another forty years and the decisions of the Thatcher government, that saw the maturity and, in some cases, the reversal of this social and cultural experiment.
This is a long, dense and colorful book, full of first-person details and observations, many of them from the surveys and observations of the government itself. Chapters focus on various aspects of the cultural and social revolution, in the classroom, on the factory floor, in the (mine) pits, in the shops, in the media, and more. At one bookstore where I looked for the book, they claimed that it was a textbook and not part of their trade book collection. While it is as thorough -- or more -- as any academic textbook, it reads more like a highly detailed, multi-authored journal or catalog of the period. Invest the time.
Rationing was a big thing. I remember my mother sitting at the kitchen table counting what coupons were remaining for the week, all the essential foods, especially the bacon! The queuing up was everywhere, and, as was noted in the book, sometimes, what you queued up for had been sold out by the time you got to the counter. What amazes me is the fact that this writer covered every aspect, every detail of life as it was in those days. What a feat! I'm 84 and will never get through all the books this man has written. What a genius! Are they available on tape or CD?
Kynaston describes it all so perfectly, and his writing style is so unobtrusive, I could hardly put the book down. Like the other reviewers, I am very much looking forward to the next volume.
Recommended for those with an interest in the time period, but this was a bit too dry to really shine.
realize how bad it was at the time. This book brought it all back,