Austerity Britain, 1945-1951

Austerity Britain, 1945-1951

by 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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780802779588
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing
Publication date: 12/01/2010
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 704
File size: 1 MB

About 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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Austerity Britain, 1945-51 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Opinionated on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
David Kynaston takes a very simple, but effective approach, to his social history of Britain in the immediate post war years. He has scanned the newspapers and magazines of the day, read the diaries of the famous and the not so famous, made a lot of use of Mass Observation and the nascent public opinion polling of the day to construct both a people's narrative of 1945 to 1951 but also to explore in more depth issues such as nationalisation, the setting up of the welfare state, women in the workplace, urban planning and reconstruction and others. All of which makes it highly readable, and one is struck both by the conservatism of British society (even though a reformist, overtly Socialist Labour government was elected to power in 1945) and the determination to create social justice (The New Jerusalem of the title) in Britain with scant regard for the situation in Britain's many colonies. Indeed one of the most striking arguments put forward in the book is that an early abandonment of the colonial project and deployment of the resources it took up into trade and industry may have resulted in Britain at least maintaining its pre war position as one of the great powers, rather than standing by as that preeminence gradually dribbled away If there are any criticisms of this work, it is probably reflects the sources available to Kyanaston. There is no mention of Northern Ireland, little of Wales (other than the South Wales collieries) and little of the northern parts of England. Scotland is mainly discussed in the context of the urban planning of Glasgow But as I say, this may be due to a lack of sources from those areas. What is a little more puzzling is a lack of discussion of the reintegration into society of demobilised servicemen - surely a key issue of the time? But none the less an excellent history, I am looking forward to reading Family Britain, the next volume
delphica on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
t was hard to rate this book, it is FULL of information, but it's hard to imagine sitting down and reading it through and being riveted. It feels a lot like a textbook. I'm giving it four stars for usefulness, but it's more like a mild three for reading pleasure.Allegedly, this is the first in a series of 6 (and this is an enormous book on its own) of Kynaston's history of Britain after WWII. He organizes the chapters by theme, and then the bulk of the information is first-hand contemporary accounts of the issues, mostly from diaries and letters. Rationing, the rise of the Labour party, the miners' strikes... the best thing about this is that if you are the kind of non-British person who reads a lot of novels written in England during this time, it sheds a lot of light on passing references to events and people that may otherwise elude American readers. I confess I ended up skimming a lot about the miners, and giving more attention to Princess Elizabeth's wedding and the arrival of the New Look.Overall, it is heavy on the politics and the economy, and a little light on domestic issues, which was disappointing to me personally, although shopping and menus made frequent appearances.Grade: It's very texty. I'm giving it a B.Recommended: Mostly as a reference tool.
bruchu on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Redistributionism in Postwar BritainIn this ambitious narrative, British Historian David Kynaston attempts to reconstruct the lives of Britons after the end of WWII. In many ways, life after the war was just as hard maybe harder than it was during the war. There were some celebrations, but mostly a somber realization of what lay ahead.Much of Kynaston's book is focused on the newly elected Labour government under Clement Atlee and their attempts to introduce and implement the welfare state, the beginnings of democratic socialism and the debates over nationalization of public services. The largest and most significant of course being the creation of the National Health Service. Kynaston also describes the many high-modernist urban projects to modernize the cities and suburbanize.Kynaston weaves through a variety of personal narratives documenting the major social, economic and political changes underway. I especially appreciated Kynaston's observations of the changing roles of women in postwar Britain. The debate over whether they should give up their jobs and return to their traditional domestic roles or whether they belonged permanently alongside men. How veterans coped and struggled to re-integrated into civil society. All throughout, Kynaston paints a picture of austerity, where the electricity went off and on, and how long the daily lineups for food were, the cleavages created by increasing immigration, and the coincidental timing of the harshest winter conditions in decades.The book is written in the traditional historical narrative and at over 600 pages, the book is a rather long read. I think that some of detail could have been paired down for the casual reader, but considering this is part of an anthology series, it is perfectly suitable for that purpose. Overall, I recommend the book for anyone who wants a detailed social history of England in the immediate postwar period.
abdoujaparov on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A social and political history very much in the vein of Peter Hennessy's Never Again, Austerity Britain is a thoroughly researched, fascinating and immersive journey through a difficult time in British history. By using the diaries of both notable people (politicians and the like) and of ordinary citizens, and the wealth of social research carried out by Mass Observation, he gives a very personal account of rationing (worse than during the war), housing and urban planning, nationalisation, education, the creation of the NHS, and all the other notable achievements and near-misses of the Atlee government.The subject matter is fascinating. The UK had emerged victorious from WWII, but the price paid was enormous. As the title suggests, the quality of life in Britain in the immediate aftermath of the war was scarcely better than during it. There were crippling shortages of housing, food, and during the historically bad winter of 46/46, of electricity generation. Britons who bore the burden stoically during wartime were rather less accepting after the war was over. In fact, my favourite aspect of the book was finding out that 1940s Britons complained just as much as 2010's Britons, and in many cases about the same things - the weather, immigration, politicians, employment, crime, the supposed wildness of youths. Reactionary Daily Mail readers come from a renewable source, apparently.I'll have to wait until I've read Kynaston's second book in this series to find out if the 1950s was the golden age we're led to believe, but I can safely conclude that the latter half of the 1940s certainly wasn't. It was optimistic, to begin with at least, but hard.The one criticism I have, that costs the book a fifth star, is that it tends to feel unstructured. Anecdote leads into anecdote, quote into quote, often without feeling as if a point is being made.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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)