Austerity Britain: 1945-51

Austerity Britain: 1945-51

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by David Kynaston
     
 

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A majestic people's history of England in the years immediately following the end of World War II, and a surprise bestseller in the UK.

As much as any country, England bore the brunt of Germany's aggression in World War II , and was ravaged in many ways at the war's end. Celebrated historian David Kynaston has written an utterly original, compellingly readable

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Overview

A majestic people's history of England in the years immediately following the end of World War II, and a surprise bestseller in the UK.

As much as any country, England bore the brunt of Germany's aggression in World War II , and was ravaged in many ways at the war's end. Celebrated historian David Kynaston has written an utterly original, compellingly readable account of the following six years, during which the country indomitably rebuilt itself.

Kynaston's great genius is to chronicle England's experience from bottom to top: coursing through the book, therefore, is an astonishing variety of ordinary, contemporary voices, eloquently and passionately displaying the country's remarkable spirit even as they were unaware of what the future would hold. Together they present a fascinating portrait of the English people at a climactic point in history, and Kynaston skillfully links their stories to the bigger, headline-making events of the time. Their stories also jostle alongside those of more well-known figures like celebrated journalist-to-be Jon Arlott (making his first radio broadcast), actress Glenda Jackson, and writer Doris Lessing, newly arrived from Africa and struck by the leveling poverty of postwar Britain. Austerity Britain gives new meaning to the hardship and heroism experienced by England in the face of Germany's assaults.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

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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Library Journal

In this volume, British historian Kynaston (The City of London) presents the first two parts ("A World To Build" and "Smoke in the Valley") of what will ultimately be his history of Britain from 1945 to 1979, which he refers to as his "Tales of a New Jerusalem." Although the immediate postwar years in Britain have been well covered by many historians, Kynaston's distinctive approach, weaving together private diary entries, media accounts, and interviews from the social research organization Mass Observation, allows the reader to experience the same circumstances and events simultaneously from many different viewpoints and all levels of Britain's class structure. Ranging from V-E Day to the sweeping changes brought about by a young Labour government, the text never loses its focus on how ordinary people coped with the effects of war, long after the battles ended. Coal miners, housewives, and shopkeepers join alongside famous voices to tell about times of astonishing adversity and upheaval. Some British terminology will be unfamiliar to an American audience, but overall this book, although a heavy 704 pages, is engaging and accessible. Recommended.
—April Younglove

Kirkus Reviews
A broad study of British society in the immediate postwar era. In this first of a projected two books on the history of Britain between 1945 and the rise of Margaret Thatcher in 1979, Kynaston (History/Kingston Univ.; The City of London: Volume IV, 2001, etc.) offers a Homeric catalog of the differences between now and then. In 1945, there were "no supermarkets, no motorways, no teabags, no sliced bread, no frozen food," no this-and-that nearly ad infinitum, while there were, of course, plenty of hungry, bombed-out people and plenty of unemployed veterans. There were also few nonwhite Britons, few women working outside of women's-work occupations, few evident signs that Britain had actually won the war. The recovery was hardly rapid, Kynaston notes, but it was marked by all sorts of shifts in British society: a marked rise in the divorce rate, suicide and the like, but also the rising sense that there was more to life than simply working-that "work . . . was starting to lose some of its traditional centrality in terms of defining a working man's life and purpose" and that the old "tooth-and-nail capitalism" was on the way to being mediated by a state more hospitable to notions of social welfare. Kynaston is strong on odd juxtapositions in the more shadowy corners of British life. He notes, for instance, that while in the immediate postwar era "the black-market spiv really started to emerge as a well-known type," a figure generally regarded as a parasite on the back of their misery, practically everyone bought on the black market anyway. Kynaston also looks at people who were much heard in the era and beyond, such as the controversial George Orwell and the emerging immigrant writer V.S.Naipaul, who grumbled, "It is impossible to get rich. . . . The income taxes are ridiculously high . . . and probably will go up with this heavy expenditure on re-armament."Exemplary social history of a time still fresh in many Britons' minds-and much different from the postwar era in America. Agent: Deborah Rogers/Rogers, Coleridge & White

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780802716934
Publisher:
Walker & Company
Publication date:
05/13/2008
Edition description:
First Edition
Pages:
704
Sales rank:
579,121
Product dimensions:
6.72(w) x 9.24(h) x 2.18(d)

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