BRITAIN, 1945-1951

Hennessy (Contemporary History/London), a former correspondent for the Times of London and The Economist, offers a massive history—impressively scholarly and as engagingly readable as the best journalism—about the first six years of Britain's postwar transformation from an imperial power into a welfare state. This first volume of Hennessy's projected history of post- World War II Britain does not pretend to be a model of objectivity: The author writes in his preface and introduction of his patriotism and love of English civilization, frequently identifying with George Orwell's love/hate relationship with his country. Nonetheless, Hennessy is rigorously factual as he briskly details Britain's plunge into war in September 1939, the bungling of the early campaigns of battle, the fall of Chamberlain's government, the Battle of Britain's transformative social impact on the English people, and Britain's victorious struggle against Hitler after the US entered the war. After Clement Atlee's Labour government succeeded Churchill's war government in July 1945, British social policy became more avowedly socialist and egalitarian while its imperial perogatives dwindled. Hennessy contrasts the development of the National Health Service and the other apparatus of the welfare state with Britain's declining ability to dictate the course of world events. While Britain lost India, her proudest colonial possession, the nation increasingly looked to the US for leadership in European affairs (though the Suez crisis, which for Hennessy marked the end of British imperialism and the culmination of an attitudinal sea-change for Britain's leaders, lies in the future, at the end of Hennessy's history). Hennessy ends with a delightful snapshot of ``midcentury Britain'' in which he describes the shifting social mores of an increasingly egalitarian, rapidly changing—though still backward-looking—people. An absorbing, limpidly written study of the political and social dimensions of England's graceful descent from greatness.

Pub Date: April 18, 1994

ISBN: 0-679-43363-5

Page Count: 560

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1994

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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