Read Austerity Britain, 1945-51 by David Kynaston Online


Coursing through Austerity Britain is an astonishing variety of voices - vivid, unselfconscious, and unaware of what the future holds. A Chingford housewife endures the tribulations of rationing; a retired schoolteacher observes during a royal visit how well-fed the Queen looks; a pernickety civil servant in Bristol is oblivious to anyone's troubles but his own. An array oCoursing through Austerity Britain is an astonishing variety of voices - vivid, unselfconscious, and unaware of what the future holds. A Chingford housewife endures the tribulations of rationing; a retired schoolteacher observes during a royal visit how well-fed the Queen looks; a pernickety civil servant in Bristol is oblivious to anyone's troubles but his own. An array of working-class witnesses describe how life in post-war Britain is, with little regard for liberal niceties or the feelings of their 'betters'. Many of these voices will stay with the reader in future volumes, jostling alongside well-known figures like John Arlott (here making his first radio broadcast, still in police uniform), Glenda Jackson (taking the 11+) and Doris Lessing (newly arrived from Africa, struck by the levelling poverty of postwar Britain. David Kynaston weaves a sophisticated narrative of how the victorious 1945 Labour government shaped the political, economic and social landscape for the next three decades.Deeply researched, often amusing and always intensely entertaining and readable, the first volume of David Kynaston's ambitious history offers an entirely fresh perspective on Britain during those six momentous years....

Title : Austerity Britain, 1945-51
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9780747579854
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 692 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

Austerity Britain, 1945-51 Reviews

  • David
    2019-06-17 08:35

    Announcing a searchable on-line glossary for David Kynaston's Austerity BritainThis is an excellent and VERY detailed history (the first in a series) of the UK after World War II. The intended audience seems to be British people; it is an instance of a nation re-telling its story to itself. There's nothing wrong with this; in fact, it is very necessary. However, it sometimes makes the book difficult for the non-British to understand, because the author assumes that the reader is aware of common British cultural references. In addition, sometimes ordinary citizens who just happened to leave diaries behind appear in the narrative without identification; it's hard to tell upon first reference if a person is an ordinary citizen or someone you should have heard of. Finally, there's a liberal use of non-English words, many of which I had never heard or read before, probably due to my inferior colonial education.As an aid and encouragement for non-Brits attempting to tackle this book, I have assembled and posted a searchable glossary of obscure (to me) names, places, and words used (in my opinion) without sufficient explanation. It is in the form of a spreadsheet on Google Docs here. I hope this attempt to push the boundaries of Goodreads-related web geekery is of use to someone somewhere.I chose to exclude from this glossary all names, places, etc., that I felt were sufficiently explained in this book. Also, I chose to exclude names, etc., that I felt were sufficiently famous, i.e., that I had heard of before I read this book. Some of these names include:All British Prime Ministers, all rock group members or individual acts that had hit records, Alan Bennett, Patrick Stewart, Quentin Crisp, Isaiah Berlin, Cecil Beaton, Ian Dury, Anthony Powell, John Fowles, Norman Tebbit, Arthur Scargill, Arthur Koestler, Tom Courtenay, Roy Hattersley, Elvis Costello, Glenda Jackson, Kingsley and Martin Amis, Philip Larkin, Benny Hill, V. S. NaipaulAs mentioned, in addition to the luminaries listed above, this book strives mightily to include the voices of average people, which is a refreshing change. On the other hand, there are times when you find yourself pretty deeply into the weeds on topics like trade unionism and urban planning in the period. I didn't mind, but it's definitely not for every taste. I intend to read the already-published second volume, Family Britain, as well as the as-yet-unpublished third volume, tentatively titled Modernity Britain. I invite you to submit comments, corrections, or suggestions about the glossary in the comments section after this review.

  • Jarvo
    2019-06-07 04:11

    I once came close to approaching David Kynaston to edit a collection of material on the history of the city of London. Who knows what would have happened if I'd succeeded? I might have delayed the start of one of the most amazing projects of our times or even put put him off it completely...Kynaston is writing a history of Britain during what might be called the 'welfare period' (roughly speaking 1945 to 1979, from the birth of what came to be called the welfare state to the point at which Mrs T, in her own words, 'came down from the mountain' to put an end to such nonsense). Trench one consists of the 'austerity years', when the war had been won but there were no fruits of victory. It deals with the monumental developments of the period for example, the birth of the NHS or the restructuring of education. But it deals with them both in terms of the great and the humble, trawling a vast range of sources, especially diaries, to outline the policy debates but also to find the voice of the proverbial man on the Clapham omnibus. The result is a panoramic view of Britain in the period, with coverage of sport and culture as well as emerging debates on the issues of housing, health, education, and the management of the economy. Which makes it as entertaining as it is insightful. And it is hard to believe quite how constricted, in a material ay, Britain as through this period - it is like reading about East Central Europe in the '70's.It is possible to argue that the book might have been approached differently. It is very 'inside the whale', it is a UK view of the UK and the nascent stirrings of the European project are dealt with in a few pages. It approaches things chronologically and just occasionally it would be good to know what the long term implications of some of the things described were (this is normally hinted at but something more thorough going would be good). For example there is a masterly account of the situation at the UK's major motor manufacturers, all of whom had a different approach to labour relations. It would be good to know which, if any. were more successful in the long run and whether relations with the labour force were the key determinant. This might be to come, of course.Ultimately, though, it is futile to blame the book for things it is not. This is a masterpiece of social and economic history (which it needs to be - this offering deals with 6 years and is over 600 pages long, the whole project is on course to be longer than Proust!)(A gratifying footnote: it is interesting to note how many of the major contributors to the debate were Routledge - often Allen & Unwin authors - I counted more than a dozen including Beveridge, Titmuss, Laski, Michael Young, and, not forgetting, Attlee himself...)

  • Nicholas Whyte
    2019-05-21 08:41 read an greatly enjoyed the second book of this series a couple of years ago; I'm glad to say that the first is just as good, a detailed internal history of England (with a bit of Wales, less Scotland and no Northern Ireland) during basically the term of Attlee's Labour government. Kynaston's sympathy for the detail is tremendously engaging, and humanises a surprisingly alien place and time. There are some imporessive recurrent themes: rationing remained a constant reality (and of course enabled the black market to flourish), with most food remaining rationed until after the period covered in this book. Despite the Labour victory, government remained firmly in the hands of the civil service whose upper ranks shared a deep Establishment background - it was the 60s before anyone really challenged this. This was true also of the fledgling BBC, which did not even cover the 1950 World Cup (in which England was famously defeated by the Unites States). Some interesting people pop up again and again - Glenda Jackson and Pete Wyman, promising teenagers; the diarists both obscure (Henry St.John); and well-known (Molly Panter-Downs).In contrast to the second book in the series, there is plenty of party politics here. The Labour Party, having won power (on the ideas framed by Michael Young, a figure I had forgotten about), successfully created the National Health Service and nationalised the coal mines, and crucially threw its lot in with Truman rather than Stalin. But I was unaware of the role that sudden death played in the politics of the day - Ellen Wilkinson, the Minister of Education, died in 1947, and Ernest Bevin, the Foreign Secretary and the Lord Privy Seal, in 1951. (This just doesn't happen any more. The last British cabinet minister to die in office, of this writing, was Lord Williams of Mostyn in 2003; the last of the same weight as Wilkinson or Bevin was Anthony Crosland in 1977.)The Labour government's reputation for competence was hit early on by an event for which it bore no responsibility and whose consequences it would have been very difficult for any government to mitigate: the exceptionally cold winter of 1946/47. Six weeks of very cold weather from late January to early March were followed by heavy rain, which added to the thaw to flood towns and countryside. The winter of 1962-63 was colder, but I guess that the country's infrastructure was better able to cope (and it was not immediately followed by heavy rain, as had happened in 1947). The bad weather hit industrial and agricultural productivity very hard, and certainly prolonged rationing and post-war hardship. Kynaston describes all of this vividly but unsentimentally, possibly the best passage of the book.In summary, well worth reading.

  • J.
    2019-06-11 09:37

    It had been an extraordinarily hard six years since the end of the war--in some ways even harder than the years of the war itself.David Kynaston, AfterwordFrom what gets dutifully reported in this huge volume, the battle with austerity and desperation was a fearsome fight in Britain following the war. Whole blocks, neighborhoods, sections of London and other cities were devastated; and the population that got out from under were basically devastated again. Those who were lucky enough to see VE day were often forced into situations that crushed spirits and weakened the resolve that should have come with Victory. Beyond the destruction was huge national debt to be repaid under the Lend-Lease treaty, the continuation of shortages and rationing, and a nation more geared toward khaki, blackout curtains and munitions than peacetime. The war still lingered, not only in the bombed places but in people's minds and behavior. Any conversation tended to drift towards the war, like an animal licking a sore place. 1949, Doris Lessing.No shortage of national resolve though, in the heroic efforts to get the nation back on its feet; the Britons that had refused to grow 'vegetables-only' per wartime edict, defiantly keeping their gardens in flowers secretly-- would make the postwar push. What soon became obvious was that not only was the rebuilding going to require intensive effort, but that what got built was not really going to resemble what came before it. Britain was a tumbling empire coming down off its Victorian and Edwardian highs. Neglected or ignored concessions to modernity had to be faced up to in the postwar era, and new solutions were disconcertingly the only solutions : The very first thing to win is the Battle of Planning. We shall need to have planning on a national scale, boldly overstepping the traditional boundaries of urban council, rural council, County Council. Boldly overstepping the interests described so often as vested. 1943, Beveridge Report. In Kynaston's book the planning never ends, even in the rear-view mirror; the Labour government headed by Atlee is at once lionized for symbolizing a new, integrated Britain and then derided for the fact that no symbolism could leverage an entire nation out of the ditch. There is much that is judged to be integral to any new plan-- new philosophies about class and education-- but there was no budging on policy by those interests described by Sir Wm. Beveridge as 'vested'. The more it would change, the more it would stay the same.Wobbly on its feet the new government proved very susceptible to public opinion, as after all the whole war effort had been shouldered by that public to defend and preserve, but also the public had changed. Immigration, wartime loss, class shifts and a new broader sense of international scale had opened up new avenues for inclusion, society-wide change. From urban design to the new National Health service Britain would embark on a more humanitarian path. The vested interests were best advised to accept and invest rather than drag heels. It is never so stated in the book, but rides just underneath Kynaston's narrative, that the Fifties were coming, and great seismic rumblings were in their infancy. The second brutal war in just a half century had worn down barriers; the unblinking vigilance of purely Market force was distracted, frayed. The burdens of humanitarianism, worker protections, health, welfare and housing concerns began to push at the door of this rigid capitalist, militarist, banking & manufacturing economy. Beyond the typical needs and requirements, a philosophical change seems to have taken hold.. people had opened their eyes, Britain was not a castle nor its populace grateful serfs; they'd earned a voice in what would take place, and wouldn't be having more of the same dreary war-austerity-war cycles.Kynaston's book itself does battle with the scale of the proceedings-- how to navigate from the grand historical arc down to the necessary minutiae without losing the thread. Overall he does very well with marshaling the representative data, but he's fairly dull going about it. (In a book about drabness and drear, this has to be a fight waged in every sentence..) As much as it's painful to think so, he could do with a bit more of the dramatic voicings of the Ken Burns documentary school of history; sometimes the lists and factoid blizzards in the 632 pages here are simply overwhelming. Once in a while, though, a direct-from-the-era excerpt rings hauntingly true. Working on a schools report in 1950, journalist Laurence Thompson is quoted, searching out signs of new life in an otherwise-banal girls gymnastics class, in a Secondary Modern school : They had the lithe, long-limbed grace which schoolgirls have, and schoolboys have not. They swung from ropes and leapt over horses with a panache and freedom of limb which took my breath away. I found myself thinking, in the gloomy way one does, that in a few years they would be doping themselves with the pictures three times a week in order to endure their stuffy offices and factories; they would be standing packed in buses; suffering the sniggering, furtive unlovely approach to love in a cold climate; growing old under the burden of children, household duties, fear of war... But a change was at hand, and it was beginning to emerge in the late forties of Kynastons period here; that it would develop for another ten years before exploding into the Swinging London of the 60's wasn't yet apparent. This is a valuable history, (over)packed with game-changers, large and small. I'm signing up for the whole ride. Next up, 'Family Britain, 1951-1957'.

  • Alexandra
    2019-05-27 10:13

    Much like after finishing "Wartime Britain: 1939-1945" (by Juliet Gardiner and edited by David Kynaston and a MUST READ for anyone reading Kynaston's series), I am left realizing that I knew much less about the period that I thought. I am astonished that conditions in Britain actually worsened immediately after the war. And although the United States contributed to the rebuilding of Europe via the Marshall Plan, I am confused by why the US didn't help more with the food shortage. Amazing work.

  • Slavo Ingilizov
    2019-05-23 09:15

    An eye-opening account on British culture and history. As a foreigner living in Britain, some of the things I was witnessing daily were completely inexplicable... until I read this book. It gives a unique view on why the British are what they are. It's a history book, but told through diaries of the people who lived during those times. This gives a unique personal touch and is much more enjoyable than classical history books. Did you know how the NHS was created? Or that the left ideas dominated British politics after the war? Why was the rail network nationalised and how did people live through the strict rationing in the extreme scarcity of the 40s and 50s? Fascinating accounts of these and more interesting stories that made me understand Britain a lot more easily.

  • Ilya Gerner
    2019-06-06 04:31

    Trying to get myself in the mood for the post-debtpocalyptic hellscape (post-downgrade hellscape?) of furloughed federal employees warming themselves by trashcan fires while the rest of us dance for pennies in our bankruptcy barrels, I’ve been reading David Kynaston’s Austerity Britain: 1945-1951. Some observations:1. While this is cold comfort to British government workers facing layoffs and UK citizens dealing with service cuts, today’s Coalition-imposed austerity just isn’t that austere compared to the post-War version. A sample of chapter titles includes these Eeyoric gems:Waiting for Something to HappenWe’re So Short of EverythingChrist It’s Bleeding ColdThe Whole World is Full of PermitsOh, for a Little Extra Butter!Stiff and Rigid and Unadaptable2. That said, “shared sacrifice” meant something altogether different from its present use. Kynaston notes that the living standard of the working class, which made up 75 percent of the country, was 10 percent higher in 1948 than a decade earlier, while real salaries for the “middle class” declined by 20 percent. Post-War rationing generated angst and a thriving black market, but left the average worker - as well as the poor and unemployed - with a secure source of nutrition. The National Health Service, compulsory social insurance, and the rest of the welfare state was generally welcomed (I enjoyed Nye Bevan’s characterization of the Tories as “vermin,” while he stumped for the NHS), even as nationalization of industry was met with either indifference or hostility.3. Reading this will make you more appreciative of F.A. Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom, but less tolerant of Hayek’s present-day readers. Atlee’s and Bevan’s Labour Government really was intent on some regimentation and centralization of economic power, and implemented its plans with a joylessness that was reflected in a society of constant form-filling and queue-waiting. I can now blame the dourness of Labour’s Britain for Reagan’s turn to the right:"For almost four months the American film star Ronald Reagan spent his working days at Elstree Studios, making an instantly forgettable movie, The Hasty Heart, set in a hospital compound in Burma. ‘You won’t mind our winter outdoors - it’s indoors that’s really miserable,’ an Englishman had helpfully warned him, and - wearing either pajamas or shorts for the entire picture - Reagan froze most of the time. His otherwise determinedly cheerful memoirs recall a series of gloomy images and episodes: an appalling London fog that ‘was almost combustible, so think was it with soft-coal smoke’, lingering for almost a week ‘until a kind of claustrophobia threatened to drive everyone stir-crazy’; the only outdoor illumination coming from ‘dim and inadequate street lamps’; the ‘severe limitations on food’; and a hotel in Cardiff where Reagan in the small hours ran out of shillings for the gas fire and ‘finished the night wrapped in my overcoat.’ At Elstree itself he was also unimpressed by the contrast between the ‘tremendously talented, creative people’ he was working with and the ‘incredible inefficiency that makes everything take longer than it should’, not helped by union restrictions on the hours available for filming."Witnessing the planned nationalization of coal and steel, the unremitting use of ration books, and a fastidiously censured BBC, a contemporary right-wing observer might be forgiven for writing a crank pamphlet warning of Sovietization. With hindsight, we know the Labour government built a fundamentally decent, if too austere, society, never wavering from a democratic and anti-Soviet path.Recommended for those interested in British history.

  • Adrian Dormer
    2019-06-05 03:16

    A bit heavy going but very interesting. Governments havent learnt from the past and are still making the same mistakes.

  • Mark
    2019-06-10 02:30

    David Kynaston begins his book, the first of a planned multi-volume survey of Britain, on a high note by chronicling the celebrations of V-E Day. It is a joyous starting point for his ambitious goal, which is to chart the evolution of the nation from the end of the Second World War to the election of Margaret Thatcher's Conservative government in 1979. It is an era that began with the commitment to nationalizing industries and creating the modern welfare state and ended with a government winning power with a promise to undo many of these programs, and Kynaston plans to show how the country developed over this period. This he does by focusing on the people who lived in those times, drawing from the early work of Mass-Observation, contemporary press accounts and the private writings of diarists to provide a sprawling portrait of Britain in the late 1940s.What particularly stands out is how much different the nation was back then. The Britain that emerges from these pages is a nation driven by an industrial economy, with an overwhelmingly white and predominantly male workforce in physically demanding jobs producing a quarter of the world's manufactured goods. The everyday lives of these Britons was different as well, lacking not only the modern conveniences that the author notes early in the text but even many of the basics of prewar life, basics which had been sacrificed to the exigencies of war. Kynaston notes their growing frustration with ongoing scarcity, a frustration that illustrated the gulf between their harsh realities and the idealistic dreams of government planners that is a persistent theme of the book.Richly detailed, superbly written, and supplemented with excellent photographs, Kynaston's book is an outstanding account of postwar Britain. It offers readers an evocative account of a much different era of British history, yet one with all-too familiar concerns over youth, crime, and an emerging multiracial society. Having devoured its pages, I look forward eagerly to the next installment and the insights Kynaston will offer.

  • Michael Meeuwis
    2019-06-05 10:24

    If for you, as for me, social history is catnip, then--to mix a metaphor--you will devour this. Kynaston's authorial intercessions over the mass of material he selects seem pretty minimal; and, as a number of other readers have mentioned, there are many moments where readers who are not British and of a particular generation will not get references the book seems to assume we will. This is far from crippling to the overall effect of the book, however, which gives a (to my mind) remarkably even-handed account of the development of English society in the immediate postwar years. Kynaston loves voices from diaries and from Mass Observation; and although I suppose I would have preferred a more analytic account of these voices, the material itself is fantastic. Kynaston's overall project is to map English society from the origins of the welfare state to Thatcher in 1978. This is a topic that, I think, responds well to even-handedness, given how divisive Thatcher's legacy remains. I see it as a virtue of the book that those sympathetic and antipathetic to the Thatcherite project could find in this book material to justify their position: Kynaston is sympathetic both to those creating the NHS and to those criticizing (for example) automobile unions for what seems a crippling failure to innovate. This is, further, the most thorough account I have read of the tensions between what postwar planners wanted--communal living, planned cities--and what the mass of the populace seemed to want once their immediate physical needs were met: privacy and self-determination. Certainly, anyone arguing that Thatcherism is un-English can find much in this book to correct them--although, and I think this is a virtue, Kynaston also identifies ways that modes of collective planning responded to immanent national needs and wants. I look forward to finishing this series with pleasure.

  • Uwe Hook
    2019-05-18 05:37

    I have to confess to being somewhat disappointed by David Kynaston's Austerity Britain: 1945 to 1951. At 633 pages (plus notes), it brings new meaning to the terms "ponderous tome" and "laborious read". On the plus side, it does offer a considerable amount of well-researched detail about the period. But that said, it is crippled in presentation by a frequently frustrating lack of context and a baffling lack of structure. Reading through it was a considerable struggle, somewhat on the scale of attempting to put together a 10K piece jigsaw puzzle without the picture on the box cover to serve as a guide. All in all, I think that the real target audience for this book is either people who are already fairly familiar with the period or Britons who are over the age of 60 and can actually remember it.While the individual details are interesting, the lack of context leave the reader in something of a muddle, very much a case of being unable to see the forest for the trees. And while the quotes from individuals, famous and ordinary, from the period do offer interesting insight, after a while one gets the impression that Kynaston is determined to include a quote from every single person who ever lived in or visited Britain during those years. It really does get to be overkill after a while.

  • Esther
    2019-05-26 07:27

    So this 700 page hardback tome did have me pondering that there are some advantages to the soul-less Kindle as I lugged it around in my bag. But not enough to make me give up on paper, cover art, design and smell... oh where was I. Yes this book. Simply wonderful social history of post-war Britain. I love Kynaston's approach which is to illuminate the macro with the minor - i.e. what the man and woman on the street was thinking/doing. He has hunted down several diaries and also some wonderful quotes from 'Mass Observation', a very Orwellian sounding government organization which basically involved asking people questions and reporting on overheard conversations in pubs. And the Conservatives voted several times against the foundation of the NHS, god a real consistency of idiocy there. Thank heavens for Nye Bevan, what a gift with words he had, really drove the argument home. Not all politics either, fascinating stuff on what people did in their free time, holidays, the growth of TV, rationing and black market food..'spivs'. Oh great stuff, but man I'm glad I didn't have to live through those times, bombed by the Nazis and then years of poverty, pretty grim..'first real egg for ten years...ooh I made Harold a cake'....

  • Lizixer
    2019-06-15 07:30

    Finally I have got around to reading a book that I took out of the library 3 times but never got around to - probably because of its sheer size but the magic of the kindle app meant I could read this on my various devices and I soon found myself unable to put the book down (except when I ran out of battery-a definite disadvantage to reading books on tablets).You see, I thought I knew about that post-war period thanks to the stories from family, the myth-making of successive governments and TV dramas. Of course, I *knew* nothing. Using Mass Observation and contemporary sources covering popular culture, politics, sporting history and 'high culture' Kynaston pieces together a portrait of a country exhausted by war, hungry and tired and barely keeping its head above water. And reading it raised a lot of questions for me to ponder about paternalism, failed Modernism and the truth about one of the most dearly held beliefs of the left, 'the Spirit of '45' A book whose chapters will be worth delving into again and again.

  • Jeremy
    2019-05-30 10:29

    I knew very little about the time period, but my interest in the British motorcycle industry has had me ready for a good book of postwar British history for some time. This is a fantastic, highly readable introduction. Its explicit focus on class is refreshing and reminiscent of Howard Zinn's work. It's a true people's history, in that there's less here about Great Men and Their Deeds and more about how social and economic trends came about and affected ordinary Britons. Personal diaries and archival social science research are used brilliantly, and provide much of the book's insight into the British character. I'm looking forward to the next volume.

  • Graeme Roberts
    2019-05-23 04:24

    A magnificent book! Austerity Britain, 1945-51,is the first in the Tales of a New Jerusalem series of three books by historian David Kynaston. He combines the usual macro-historical elements with the contemporary observations of the players, the media, and ordinary people who maintained diaries or wrote letters. It is penetrating, painstakingly accurate, and balanced in its treatment of contentious issues and necessarily flawed human beings.

  • Windsor
    2019-06-11 02:33

    Very good social history, which is a huge compliment coming from a military historian. If you can survive the first 100 pages, you will be pleasantly surprised for how much detail the author uses to show how unhappy the winners of two major world wars can actually be. I can't wait to read vol 2-3

  • Filjan
    2019-05-26 07:37

    Well it was a fascinating look at the origins after the Second World War of the failed state that Britain now is. But it was twice as long as it need be. Huge chunks had to be skimmed over as they more detailed than anyone (ie I) needed.

  • Nicole Schrag
    2019-06-16 05:41

    Very thoroughly researched, and remarkably enjoyable, maybe especially if you're into debates about housing policy, which is FASCINATING in Britain in this period. I think I will read all of the British history that Kynaston sees fit to write.

  • Kelly Kapoor
    2019-06-01 08:34

    3 1/2

  • Keith Schnell
    2019-06-01 03:20

    After the end of World War Two in Europe and the 1945 election that brought about the fall of its wartime coalition government, the United Kingdom had simultaneously to rebuild an economy that had been handicapped by decades of depression, underinvestment and lack of competition; to rebuild cities devastated by the Blitz; and to maintain a hugely expensive worldwide military presence that was essentially a legacy of a bygone era of empire. At the same time, the incoming Labour Party government – Britain’s first – attempted an ambitious program of industrial nationalization. This was grounded in Britain’s wartime experiences with central planning and its own untested theories about how a planned economy should work, and was coupled with a more conventional and ultimately far more successful expansion of the British welfare state, which produced the National Health Service.This is a period that has no real equivalent in American history, which is what drew me to the book and which should make it fascinating for American readers. The closest equivalent would of course be the Truman administration’s abortive Fair Deal program of the late ‘40s, but even this comparison is lacking, as the United States emerged from the War without the external debt that posed such a challenge to British policy makers in the postwar years, to say nothing of the outright physical destruction that had to be repaired before all else. This incredibly detailed look at how a similar society dealt with this enormous challenge brings in a large number of primary sources, including individuals’ diaries and contemporary sociological research, to not just describe what was happening, but to communicate the feeling of being there. Although this makes the story very human-scaled and easy to get into, Kynaston sometimes takes it too far, spending countless pages recounting the story of a radio show that he feels to be emblematic of the times, or the final moments of a particularly memorable cricket match. Clearly designed to stir heartwarming memories amongst Britons of a certain age, the former are difficult to envision without the context of having been exposed to the appropriate reruns in one’s youth. The later, as with all things relating to cricket, may as well have been written in Martian for all the sense that they make. This excessive balance towards the “popular” part of popular history is the book’s only weak point. Austerity Britain also reflects the time in which it was written: presumably in the few years prior to its 2007 publication. Kynaston’s treatment of the British decision to get involved in the Korean War is clearly colored by the recent debacle in Iraq, and strays close to an editorial column in tone, while his casual condescension towards postwar efforts at dirigisme and business regulation echoes the conventional wisdom of the period 1979-2008. One has to wonder if an identical book written after the beginning of the Great Recession would show more empathy towards a generation of leaders who came of age in the ‘30s and who had good reason to be deeply skeptical of free markets, while retaining the ability to dispassionately document the flaws in their attempts to solve the economic problems of their day.

  • Ian Russell
    2019-06-09 05:22

    "It had been an extraordinarily hard six years since the end of the war - in some ways even harder than the years of the war itself."So begins the afterword at the end of this brilliant account of Britain, and its people, during the first Labour majority government and its socialist experiment, immediately following WW2 (although this story does start slightly before VE day).This is a very readable socio-political history book. The author presses his opinions upon the reader lightly, reliant more on the many diarists' quotes, recorded contemporary opinions and anecdotes, interviews and speeches. Of course, the Austerity in the title will draw comparisons and possibly sympathies with today's politics of austerity. However, this was an austerity managed by the Labour government of PM Clement Attlee, Nye Bevan, Ernest Bevin, Stafford Cripps, Hugh Gaitskell and the young Harold Wilson. It seems the working classes were then, as they no doubt are now, not as left wing as the socialist ideologist intellectuals, in the main from the middle to upper class, would have it (even one trade union leader is described as self-evidently right wing). Still, the electorate voted them in, abandoning the respected and victorious war-time PM, Winston Churchill, to a spell in opposition. What follows is a broad account of what the ideologists wanted for Britain, - free healthcare for all, higher standards of education for all, nationalisation of core industries and infrastructures, and modern, high density housing - what the more pragmatic got into place and how the people, high and low, received it.There's much political and cultural insight and depth throughout, well researched it seems, and very interestingly presented it is too, but the best of it is when he lets the voices of the people speak for themselves, through the collected opinions of "Mass Observation" polls, or excerpts from the ordinary diarists recording their daily experiences and concerns. There's also a collection of interesting photos though oddly confined to the back of the book (ebook version) instead of appearing throughout in context.What makes this a great read for me is its relevence. It is almost contemporary history, how we are like we are, rather than the old style history of Kings and Queens, battles and dates (okay, there are political battles of a domestic bent, and politicians - the kings and queens of modernity, perhaps - but this matters because it is - almost - about us. I read this as a prelude to the latest in the "Tales of a New Jerusalem" series of books by Kynaston, "Modernity Britain", which covers the period of my parents' coming of age. There's one other instalment covering the period in between; after this excellent book, I look forward to reading them both.

  • carltheaker
    2019-06-15 10:23

    Fascinating! first of a series, the others are inprogress, can't wait to read them.If you are English and were alive during thisera you may be overwhelmed with nostalgia from allthe tidbits on radio, tv shows, cars that are being made, celebrities, all the items of popular culture. I had an MGA myself, so can relate. On a more serious note there are interesting parallelsbetween UK then & USA now (2010): both in a big moneypinch, nationalizing industries, conservative governmentout, socialist govt in, public health care was one of thebig items on the docket.The author uses all these polls and interviews the govt didto get the pulse of the people and monitor public opinion.Hordes of govt interviewers out there asking questionsor just listening in on the bus.Seems objective, some good from the socialism imposed, alot of bad. The book reads with quotes from lots of people, mostlyeveryday folks but then I started recognizing some names,oh yeah Bill Wyman, isn't he a Rolling Stone? so that wassome of the fun of the book, these pop culture tidbitsmixed in with the other stuff. Makes me wonder how manypeople i didn't recognize that are 'someone'? only occasionally does the author say something like 'later movie star so & so'. here's a few that space allows: - '47 Benny Hill made his radio debut (he's that old ?)- '47 Peter Sellars at this stage an impressionist, was paid L12 for his week of twice- nightly appearances,which his girlfriend Graham Stark remembered as a disaster.- '47 the movie 'Holiday Camp' was big hit, the star couple's 12 year old daughter was played by Petula Clark. - '47 Fall - Glenda Jackson, Albert Finney & Bill Wyman all had their first day of Grammar school (different schools).- '47 they had a horrific winter 'the big freeze', rationedheat, on top of all the other things still being rationedfrom the war, street lights for example in London wereturned off, so in the spring soccer became even moresomething to take your mind off things: for thechampionship, Liverpool, in a tight finish the decisivegoal was scored by their red-haired centre forward AlbertStubbins. Established that day as a Liverpool icon, hewould feature (with a broad grin) almost exactly 20 yearslater on the cover of Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts ClubBand.

  • Paul
    2019-05-19 02:19

    Bombed-out and bankrupt, Britain remained a blindly optimistic place in 1945, so much so that it elected a Labour government once the war was done. The British Empire's victory over the Axis powers had been facilitated by an unprecedented expansion of the machinery of the state. The wartime experience of ruthlessly centralised economic planning seemed to have demonstrated the feasibility of the socialist model of societal organisation. Sadly for the elected Attlee government, the transferral of wartime planning to peacetime redevelopment exposed the weakness of their Keynesian model almost immediately. What had worked in an exemplary fashion in the desperate times that had engaged the majority of the population in a united endeavour against Nazism, fell to pieces in the hope of liberation from hardship that the war's end engendered. Expecting the fruits of victory, the British populace in fact experienced more of the same economic misery that war had brought, but with added left-wing preaching about how wonderful was the communitarian experiment that Attlee tried to impose. David Kynaston aggregates a remarkably wide array of sources to contrast the grinding frustration and glorious innocence of the period. Sir Cliff Richard's childhood memories of homelessness rub up against Janet Street-Porter's wide-eyed recollections of visiting the nation's first launderettes. Beneath the amusing quotes is an engaging examination of that first socialist government's failure to build enough houses, its failure to sustain a wholly free National Health Service, its surprisingly cack-handed labour relations and its bizarre attachment to the imperial ideals that the Labour Party had spent the 'thirties decrying. It's a remarkably satisfying study of a formative time in British history.

  • Okokok
    2019-06-08 02:19

    David Kynaston’s captivating book gives an excellent look at the way we were between 1945 and 1951. This is a massive work of research which, amongst all other sources, includes titbits from Mass Observation reports and private diaries of private people. The book opens with overheard grumbles in central London about there being no bells on 8th May 1945 – the Germans had surrendered the day before. The people felt they were being treated like children.It’s like going down what used to be called “memory lane” but done in such a colourful, thorough way that even those who were yet to be born and never experienced those years personally can have a good idea what life was like.We are taken from day to day problems with queuing and endless rationing, people looking askance at those able to buy on the black market and the spivs associated with this, right through to the reconstruction of industry and the creation of the Welfare State and all in a chatty, page-turner way.The UK, then, still had concepts of Empire, still thought itself ‘Great’ but was still run on ‘old boy’ principles. The ‘old boys’ came from the privileged classes, and hung together. Despite the huge debts to America and the urgency to give all industry a kick start, directors of these industries were chosen not for any real ability, of which they had none, but because they were old school friends: in one case, because the proposed director’s wife was good fun at dinner parties.It’s a very poignant book but one is left with amazement that in spite of the bumbling, blind-groping, often silly way that Britain was hauling itself out of the dust, we managed, nonetheless, to survive. An excellent and unforgettable read.

  • Nickie
    2019-05-31 07:40

    A massive tome covering just 6 years and when i says covering, I MEANS COVERING because comprehensive ain't the word - religion, royalty, sport radio, TV, films, theatre, economics, politics (socialism, conservatism, the middle way), town planning, education, marriage, gender politics and all gleaned from an incredible breadth of sources - National Observation reports, letters, diaries, news reports - from the Labour leader to the the housewife bitching in the interminable butcher queues for her ration of chops.The postwar experiences of Graham Greene, Dennis Potter, Evelyn Waugh, Patrick Stewart, Tony Benn (at 20, asked to shout 'Three cheers for the Prime Minister' by a man from the BBC but was too shy to), Kenneth Tynan, Isaiah Berlin, Irish Murdoch, Dylan Thomas, Patrick Stewart, Noel Coward, George Orwell, Kingsley Amis and Philip Larkin, Lester Pigott quoted as having "the face of a well kept grave", Neil Kinnock, more Tony Benn and did you know that Peter Sissons, John Lennon and Jimmy Tarbuck were all at school together? Amazing.So many sources, yet Kynaston manages to get his own style through the quotes. It does get a bit bogged down in trade unionism and town planning towards the end, but I can live with that. This is actually two books bound together and is part of a project to document the years 1945-1979, from VE Day to Thatcher's rise to power. If he carries on at 100 pages per year, it'll take a while, but I'll stick with 'im.

  • Elizabeth K.
    2019-05-30 06:31

    It 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.

  • Stuart Saunders
    2019-05-19 05:25

    I had high hopes for this book, and indeed the series - the author's intention is to cover postwar Britain up to 1979 - but have to confess I was somewhat disappointed by it. My main complaint is its readability (or lack of). Don't get me wrong, the author I'm sure really knows his stuff; he's an academic (or certainly writes like one), and for me therein lies the problem: he presents vast amounts of historical information, without ever really grabbing the reader's (well, this reader's) full, enthusiastic attention for the full near-700 pages.He upped the tempo a bit when discussing British television in the early 1950s, and again when describing new towns and the building of postwar housing - particularly the tower blocks. But alas this didn't last long. The emphasis throughout is on socialhistory in Britain in the immediate postwar years, and his laborious writing is the main reason I took a full month to get through it - by which time, I think I'd made up my mind I wouldn't continue with the rest of the series. All in all this was a pretty uninspiring read. There are other works out there which don't cover as much ground but are much more readable.

  • Eric
    2019-05-23 06:22

    In this exhaustingly thorough investigation of Britain's postwar economy and social state, Kynaston employs careful historiography nearly to the point of distraction. I would have preferred a more prosaic description of Britain’s awful readjustment to a changed world after the Second World War, but I appreciate the author's scholarship. Britain emerged from WWII greatly diminished. Their global colonial empire was surpassed by America’s dynamic economy. War debts crippled the British economy. Postwar social pressure forced out Churchill and the in favor of a government whose social programs (National Health Care, Social Security) were demanded by a voting populace who felt that the since war was won with their blood, toil, sweat, and tears – then they deserved some social rewards. The crushing sacrifices made by Britain’s people continued well into the early 1950’s. Kynaston’s balanced review of Britain’s shift from prewar colonial power to postwar socialist state is a fascinating read that may contain some templates and some cautionary tales for America’s looming economic difficulties.

  • Ade
    2019-06-03 05:38

    An amazing story of a period that was, in many ways, harder for the British people than the preceding war years. If it perhaps runs out of steam towards the end, this may be a reflection of the state of the Labour government whose performance it partially - and compellingly - recounts. But the main strength of the book is in the frequent quotes from diaries of ordinary Britons that are interspersed throughout. Kynaston also has a knack for uncovering the oddly prophetic remark about future events (e.g. the perceptive quote here concerning Harold Wilson's early parlimentary career).I doubt it will overturn any major preconceptions, because this period is so little considered now, beyond a lingering fondness (or distaste, depending on one's politics) for the foundation of the welfare state. But if you want to understand the currents underlying the post-war consensus, and where the turbulent events of the Seventies found their origin, start here.And now, most likely, I shall read on into the Fifties in Family Britain, 1951-1957.

  • Roberta
    2019-05-31 10:26

    Ci ho provato.E nulla toglie che in futuro mi torni il desiderio di affrontare questo tomo.Fondamentalmente i miei problemi con Austerity Britain sono:1. che il libro è lunghissimo e affronta il periodo del secondo dopo guerra in modo così mastodontico e particolareggiato da lasciarmi completamente all'oscuro rispetto alla tesi principale dell'autore (che deve esserci, no?) o comunque rispetto alla struttura del saggio2. che l'autore dà per scontate moltissime cose. Questo è un libro per chi conosce molto bene la storia inglese, e io sicuramente non rientro nella categoria. Non si può proprio definire un libro di divulgazione.3. Non vorrei suonare naif, ma c'è davvero troppa politica (ovvero, la politica dell'epoca affrontata in modo davvero minuzioso). E urbanistica. Detto questo, peccato! Gli argomenti affrontati dall'autore sono davvero interessanti, ma se perdo il filo all'interno di uno stesso capitolo vuol dire che c'è un problema. Peccato anche perché se non sbaglio questo è uno dei libri elogiatissimi da Nick Hornby...