HOPE AND GLORY by Peter Clarke


Britain 1900-1990
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 A readable volume in the new Penguin History of Britain series (see also Mark Kishlansky, A Monarchy Transformed: Britain 16031714, p. 200) that not only brings British history up to date by incorporating the results of recent scholarship, but brings it up to the present as well. Recent history is a problem for historians because the passions of modern political and religious conflict have yet to subside. Yet Clarke (Modern British History/Cambridge Univ.) succeeds in handling the highly controversial regime of Margaret Thatcher with the same detached, judicious tone that he uses to explain complicated debates over tariff policy in the early years of the century. Clarke has mastered the art of the survey, covering as many topics as possible without losing track of the central story. High politics provides the basic narrative, but the reader is often reminded of the importance to the average person of diet, religion, death, literature, alcohol, sports, television, and the division of labor within the household. One might wish for a little more passion in the narrative, and a little more attention to the views of outsiders: working-class victims of mass unemployment or government means-testing, for instance, or lower-middle-class victims of selective education or snobbery. But Clarke's moderate tone complements his centrist political views and reinforces his view of 20th-century British history as a success story. There's no hand-wringing here about the empire's decline. The people of Britain, in his view, are now better off in nearly every respect than they were in 1900. With a higher standard of living and longer life expectancy, they are now free of the moral taint of holding an empire and prepared to join a prosperous and peaceful Europe. If all of Britain's wars were not ``good'' wars like WW II, their record is nonetheless more defensible than that of most other countries. If there is an air of self-satisfaction in this volume, Clarke provides ample justification for it.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-713-99071-6
Page count: 454pp
Publisher: Viking
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 1997


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