The New York Times
Austerity Britain, 1945-1951by David Kynaston
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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, and compellingly readable, account of the following six years, during which the country rebuilt itself. Kynaston's great genius is to chronicle the country's experience from bottom to top: coursing through through the book, therefore, is an astonishing variety of ordinary, contemporary voices, eloquently and passionately evincing the country's remarkable spirit. Judy Haines, a Chingford housewife, gamely endures the tribulations of rationing; Mary King, a retired schoolteacher in Birmingham, observes how well-fed the Queen looks during a royal visit; Henry St. John, a persnickety civil servant in Bristol, is oblivious to anyone's troubles but his own. Together they present a portrait of an indomitable people and Kynaston skillfully links their stories to bigger events thought the country. Their stories also jostle alongside those of more well-known figures like celebrated journalist-to-be John Arlott (making his first radio broadcast), Glenda Jackson, and Doris Lessing, newly arrived from Africa and struck by the leveling poverty of post-war Britain. Kynaston deftly weaves into his story a sophisticated narrative of how the 1945 Labour government shaped the political, economic, and social landscape for the next three decades.
The New York Times
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)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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Meet the Author
David Kynaston was widely acclaimed for his four-volume history The City of London. He is currently a visiting professor at Kingston University in England.
David Kynaston was born in Aldershot in 1951. He has been a professional historian since 1973 and has written eighteen books, including The City of London (1994-2001), a widely acclaimed four-volume history, and WG's Birthday Party, an account of the Gentleman v. Players match at Lord's in July 1898. He is the author of Austerity Britain 1945-51 and Family Britain 1951-57, the first two titles in a series of books covering the history of post-war Britain (1945-1979) under the collective title 'Tales of a New Jerusalem'. He is currently a visiting professor at Kingston University.
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The balance of detailed description of the political processes, the effects of these in the form of acts and services, and the portraits of everyday life as experienced by different members of the population are riveting. A somewhat hefty tome, but no problem to read small chunks at a time and then reflect on the implications. If you prefer to focus on the popular experience, rather than the political processes, you can still derive substantial insights into what was going on. Personally, I got a lot of insight into the Education reforms after 1945, and how my experience of being in a grammar school compared with what happened to others with whom I had spent my elementary education. A good read, and worth waiting for the next period Kynaston covers in his new book appearing in 2013 (apparently)