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Family Britain, 1951-1957 Hardcover – December 22, 2009

4.5 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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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From Booklist

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
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Product Details

  • Series: Family Britain
  • Hardcover: 784 pages
  • Publisher: Walker Books; Complete Numbers Starting with 1, 1st Ed edition (December 22, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802717977
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802717979
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 2.6 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #849,827 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Thomas M. Sullivan on February 13, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This second in one hopes will be a continuing series of marvelous portrayals of Britain in the post-World War II years takes up where "Austerity Britain, 1945-1951 (Tales of a New Jerusalem)" leaves off and doesn't miss a resonating beat in doing so. Author Kynaston's History-writing technique is to my mind the equivalent of "pointillism" in painting (see, e.g., Georges Seurat's "Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte") wherein Kynaston's hundreds, if not thousands, of scrupulously arranged and presented vignettes and first-person recollections combine to produce the same effect as Seurat's tiny dabs of paint: when considered alone, they convey little meaning, but in combination they counter-intuitively evoke a richer and more compelling picture than the most carefully crafted narrative or masterful brush strokes.

I believe it important to read these books in series because "Austerity Britain" recounts the back-and-forth of the historic governmental initiatives underlying the formation of the British "welfare state" whereas "Family Britain" is more a sociological study highlighting the evolving effects of these fundamental changes and the glacial pace of the lifting of wartime rationing, the snail's progress of just-around-the-corner prosperity, etc. Taken together, they are simply an unparalled portrayal of the country and its people resolutely striving to recover from their literally existential trials.

Finally, as quite an old guy, I couldn't help but grow a little whimsical when reading this account of Britain's difficult 50's. I was a boy during the same period, growing up in Schenectady, NY, and as I was prompted to reflect on the decade, I was reminded that it was the last extended period of my life when things seemed to make sense. Those younger will have been taught that they were sleepy, dull years when nothing much happened. True. And you don't know what you missed.
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Format: Hardcover
In the early 1950s Great Britain was a nation in transition. On the one hand it was still an imperial power, a workshop to much of the world, a land with a tradition-bound patriarchal society. Yet on the other it was seeing the first results of the many social and economic changes underway, with the clearing of the Victorian-era slums, the growing challenges of a multi-racial population, and the rapid proliferation of television just some of the signs pointing to the future that was to come. This transition and the people who faced it are the subjects of David Kynaston's book, which chronicles life in Britain between the Festival of Britain in 1951 and Prime Minister Anthony Eden's resignation six years later.

In many respects Kynaston's book is less a narrative of these years than a panorama that allows the reader to take in details both large and small. Through them he depicts the emergence of what he calls a "proto-consumerist" society from years of rationing and deprivation. As Britain shook off the postwar austerity, its citizens embraced the burgeoning prosperity as their due after their years of sacrifice. As Kynaston demonstrates it was a reward enjoyed by a broader swath of society than ever before, yet as more people enjoyed the benefits of prosperity a growing number of concerns were expressed about the damage being done to society, of the breakdown of communities and the rebelliousness of youth.

Kynaston recounts these years in a sympathetic and perceptive manner. Seemingly nothing is too insignificant to escape his attention, while his ability to draw significance from these trivial facts supplies added depth his account of the events and developments of the era.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
A balanced and comprehensive portrayal of 1950s England (with occasional looks at Scotland and Wales). If you want to know how the England of Thatcher and Blair came to be, this is the book to read; the political, intellectual, and social developments of the last 40 years have their origins in the 1950s. The debates (and comments) 60 years ago about the NHS, education, housing, the economy will seem all too familiar. Kynaston's text is remarkably free of jargon, and the book is easily accessible to those who have only a passing familiarity with English society or history.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
David Kynaston is a master at his craft. This follow-up on "Austerity Britain" gave further insight into family life as it was after WWII. At the age of four until I was 10 - I lived in South Wales. I was completely unaware of the hardships my parents went through. Rabbit and tripe were part of the family staple diet - loved the rabbit - hated the tripe! Birthday parties were celebrated and I now wonder how my mother managed to provide a birthday and trifle for my young friends and gifts for me. We were a typical middle class family. Dad was de-mobbed in 1946 and as my mother had lived with her parents after the war, he now had to provide a home for his family. I remember him telling the story of almost coming to blows with the man building his detached house because the price kept going up. My mother had to beg for pink paint for the "baby's" (me) bedroom as it was a rarity to find anything other than white/or cream paint.
Trip to the beach on cold windy days - sitting on the sand in sweaters and holding umbrellas to shield against the wind were also a part of my memories of that time. I also remember bomb craters around Cardiff docks that were still waiting to be filled in and rubble on some of the streets where building that had fallen to the Luftwaff still had to be cleared.
Mr. Kynastons book brings back all these memories so vividly and fills in many of the blanks that, owing to my youth,
I hadn't realised.
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