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.