The late 1950s and early 1960s were a period in their own right: neither the stultifying 'high' Fifties nor the liberating 'high' Sixties, but instead an action-packed, sometimes dramatic time in which the contours of modern Britain started to take shape. These were the 'never had it so good' years in which mass affluence began fundamentally to change the tastes, even the character, of the working class; when films like Saturday Night and Sunday Morning and TV soaps like Coronation Street and Z Cars at last brought that class to the centre of the national frame; when Britain gave up its Empire; when economic decline relative to France and Germany became the staple of political discourse; when CND galvanised the protesting instincts of the progressive middle class; when 'youth' emerged as a fully fledged cultural force; when the Notting Hill riots made race and immigration an inescapable reality; when a new breed of meritocrats came through; and when the Lady Chatterley trial, followed by the Profumo scandal, at last signalled the end of Victorian morality. David Kynaston's argument is that a deep and irresistable modernity 'zeitgeist' was at work, in these and many other ways, and he reveals as never before how that spirit of the age unfolded in practice, with consequences that still affect us today. Diarists range from prime minister Harold Macmillan to an East Riding smallholder Dennis Dee; he also draws on the BBC's unique written archives, tranches of powerful sociological fieldwork as-yet undiscovered by historians.
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 W.G.'s Birthday Party, an account of the Gentleman vs. the Players at Lord's in July 1898. He is the author of Austerity Britain, 1945-51, the first title in a series of books covering the history of post-war Britain (1945-1979) under the collective title "Tales of a New Jerusalem".
This is a towering achievement following on after ‘Austerity Britain’ & ‘Family Britain’ to give a beautifully clear, detailed, nuanced examination of recent British History, social, economic & political. I was shocked at the strength and widespread nature of racism in Britain in the late 50s, the misogyny, the day to prejudices about class and education. And it brought back memories of the years when we first arrived from HK: the tribal nature of neighbourhoods, the arrival of TV, cars, new fangled supermarkets. An outstanding examination of who we, the British, are and how we got here.
Love David Kynaston’s social history series, but reading this at the height of the pandemic I was envious of the 1960s citizens’ freedom. Oh to go to see Ipswich Town win the league and then take the family for a week at Butlin’s in Clacton, tearing up the ballroom floor night after night.
Another brilliant social history, the third (and I believe, the final) in the series. What is so amazing about this is that 1958-62 was a time when there were few memorable events. Suez had happened, and Beatlemania, the Kennedys, etc, all lay in the future. However, he makes it all so interesting, and I got a real sense of how the country changed dramatically over those few years into one which a 2018 time-traveller would vaguely recognise: Police and hospital dramas on TV, social and racial unrest, bigotry, sexism, concerns over inadequate housing, consumerism, computers, Grammar school debates: it's all here. I also got a real sense of the erosion of deference towards one's social 'betters', and an appreciation of the paradox that in spite of this, the privileged classes continue to dominate society. But, underneath it all, there is a sense of greater opportunity. I suppose we will all have our own views on whether that opportunity has been taken.
A thoroughly enjoyable, if slightly skittering, read which has considerably enhanced and provided nuance to my understanding of the world I was born into. I had the ridiculous sense that the book must surely be building up to the big event of my birth (although as it turns out, David Kynaston seems to have thought that the year actually requires a whole book to itself...) In this volume of the great Tales of a New Jerusalem project, you really do feel that sense of a New Jerusalem (the hills being covered in high rise blocks...)
As before, the style is not knowing, except insofar as he appreciates whose perspectives we might be interested in hearing, because of who they became later. It is remarkable (and generally demoralising) to see the parallels between then and now, the more readily expressed racism never ceasing to shock. (Occasionally it feels as though one has fallen into a bad bit of Twitter)
I bought this book and started reading with great enthusiasm because now, living in the UK, I would love to get into its capillary veins and learn everything there is to learn about it. They say, "be careful what you wish for". Kynaston, maybe to others' pleasure but my agony, writes about everything, from play crits to individual accounts of accountants, housewives, and workers. I wouldn't have anything against this, for sure, if they were used sparingly and towards a summative discourse. Therefore, regrettably, I had to stop reading around one-third of the book. I honestly can't think any non-brit younger than 50 could enjoy this book thoroughly. Still, I hope to get back to it someday, maybe not to tackle it entirely but use it as a reference book.
Very dense, very long but truly fascinating book that manages to both macro and micro what was going on in Britain as it moved into the modern age. Using diaries, politician's public and private words, city council minutes, reviews of movies and TV shows from the time, etc., Kynaston points a truly vivid you are there portrayal of all the forces pulling Britain forward. From the clearing of slums to create high rises for the working class to the DH Lawrence trial to the heady victory and ultimate defeat of the Tories, to the issues of racism and immigration, to what was going on in the world of soccer and cricket, Kynaston brings it all to live.
What can you say? David Kynaston has created a new kind of social history, told almost exclusively through contemporary materials, published (books, magazines, newspapers) and unpublished (diaries). He is writing a history of Britain during the era of consensus politics (1945-1979) which is set to be longer than Proust. We've reached the mid point and Britain has embraced the modern in art, culture, and life. But it has embraced it in a singularly British way - cautiously and a little clumsily. Stand out sections here are chapters on the Labour party, and its response to massive defeat. Should it be a preserve of ideological principle or should it try and get elected? (Debate sound familiar?) And also a chapters on the economy and on education. If there is a fault in the books it is that there is too much on planning, architecture and housing, but the book is masterful on all issues relating to class - which in Britain is most of them - and on contemporary culture. You find yourself scanning the web for news of the next installment.
Not quite as compelling as his earlier books on post-war Britain. Perhaps this is because it is split in two halves and only covers the years 1957-59. Large focus on the struggles against racism, and the increasing influence of television. Still amazing for showing how the world changes slowly and in increments. Reading his books you realise how the past slips slowly away and the future creeps in almost unawares. Of course, he does an amazing job of hinting at the future changes coming. We peek in on the 'Quarrymen' and the beginning of the 'Cavern' in Liverpool. These are trivial events in 1958 Britain but will have profound changes in years to come. We get to see the dying out of Oswald Mosley and his fascists showing how even in 1959 the lingering shadow of fascism lived on. I was born in 1960 so it is remarkable to see how the world has moved on in so many ways since then.
A long book (820 pages with footnotes) covering a short period (1957-62). This is the 3rd volume of David Kynaston's 'New Jerusalem' sequence of books covering the history of post war Britain. This period of history is an increasingly crowded market but Kynaston stands out. His books are more social history than political or cultural history. He has a good knack of assimilating a wide variety of sources to give little 'pen pictures' of days & weeks during the period and focuses on what the ordinary person thinks & does (using a lot of the Mass Observation diaries of the time). Aside from a tendency to describe certain history books as 'magisterial' (a counted 2 uses in as many pages) there really isn't anything to fault. He is planning to take the series up to 1979 (and no further) and I am definitely along for the ride.
In long, fact-chocked sentences and paragraphs running through a whirlwind of topics, Kynaston paints an impressive portrait of Britain fully out of the era of wartime privation and on the cusp of a new post-imperial identity. He weaves newspaper articles, government accounts and personal diaries to deal with such topics as the brittleness of economic controls and the emergence of commercial society, the leap into slum clearance and motorway-building, the gestation of rock 'n' roll, and a great deal more.
Great to read a very modern social history and a good reminder that perceptions of what history was about, even in a period which is so close to us chronologically, are muddled, often wrong and always limited by the present. Kynaston writes simply and easily, ranging widely but meticulously through very specific periods of modern history. Have to go back and read the first volume Austerity Britain.
Follows the pattern of Kynaston's earlier books. Snippets from diaries, newspapers, low culture and high art leading to more detailed discussions of key issues of the day. If anything, Modernity Britain has more of the lighter material than the earlier books, which is perhaps a shame, but there is still plenty of in depth discussion.
This was an excellent book, the last of the trio by this author. Again it is very well researched , and written. To me it brought back so many memories of my childhood , in the 1950s , in England. So much that I had forgotten came rushing back. I highly recommend it.
I especially liked his use of citizens' diaries and the ongoing story of old neighborhoods being destroyed and replaced with tower blocks and skyscrapers. I'm burning to read the next volume, Opportunity Britain. I can't find even a hint that it is being written.