THE RISE AND FALL OF CLASS IN BRITAIN by David Cannadine

THE RISE AND FALL OF CLASS IN BRITAIN

KIRKUS REVIEW

An original contribution to an old topic. Originally presented as the 1993 Leonard Hastings Schoff Memorial Lectures at Columbia University, these essays are bound together by a desire to expose the British obsession with class. Cannadine, who is director of the Institute for Historical Research at London University, is well suited to the task. Class is universally acknowledged as the master narrative of British history; but what exactly does “class” mean to the British? Cannadine doesn—t pretend to offer a comparative study (though one is surely needed) but instead a work of social psychology. Ten years in America have convinced Cannadine that “most British thinking about class is vague, confused, contradictory, ignorant, and lacking adequate historical perspective.” A serious charge indeed if we accept the commonplace assumption on the centrality of class in British history. Cannadine calls for a conception of class that is more serious, deliberate, historical, reflective, and creative. Class is not merely social description, but social inscription as well; class, for Cannadine, is what culture does to inequality and social structure. As such, class is determined not just by economics, but by perception, rhetoric, language, feeling, and sentiment. Cannadine is ambitious in his wish to write a history of class as “the history of changing (and unchanging) ways of looking at society.” In the words of the author, this is an “interim report from the historiographical battle front” after the tremendous changes of the last two decades. “Class can be nasty, and class can be boring,” as Cannadine admits. “In Britain it is often both.” Thankfully, his enlightening book is neither.

Pub Date: Jan. 7th, 1999
ISBN: 0-231-09666-6
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Columbia Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 1998




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