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August 25, 2010

Family Britain, 1951-1957 by David Kynaston

Filed under: History — Randolph @ 4:08 pm

Family Britain: 1951-57 by David KynastonFamily Britain is a compilation of two books previously published as Certainties of Place and A Thicker Cut. These books are parts 3 and 4 of Tales of a New Jerusalem. Family Britain is a thorough sociological analysis of Britain from 1951-1957. There is a strong class division, the book discusses how they relate, how they spend their time and money, and issues they have with each other and with the government. During this period, Britain finally managed to come out of WWII rationing, started to rebuild its housing and began extending its road network. These were controversial, and these issues are represented well, detailing those involved and their positions.

After the stage setting, complications were compounded by a series of Comet (the first commercial jetliner and a landmark of British engineering) crashes which dashed their hopes in their jet construction, a series of strikes, the hanging of Ruth Ellis, and the rather political issue of Princess Margaret’s relationship with Captain Peter Townsend. This period saw several major events in world and British history. King George VI died in 1952 and followed by the coronation of Queen Elizabeth. The book describes how the coronation served to bring people together in small communities. The death of Stalin was in this same period. The tories came into power following the liberals, who had little of the vote. This set the stage for a lot of political issues.

I see a lot of similarities to today. We are still dealing with racial issues, and with homosexuality. Many of the arguments for and against are still the same arguments we use today. They express concerns with television, which is just coming available to the common man. The new road network enabled the British to make trips easily and this enabled the appearance of the day-tripper, a one- or two-day traveller that lead to changes in what merchants would carry and pricing.

It seemed that most international issues either did not affect the British culture, or the author chose to gloss over the issues. These include the H-Bomb development and political issues between the Soviets and Britain.

One international issue handled strongly was the war over the Suez Canal. Britain entered as a peace-keeping force following the Israeli war. The citizens were against the war, by a small margin. This was stressed when the Soviets used this issue as a smokescreen to crush the resistance in Hungary. However, when Britain was able to pull out, the support flipped to slightly in favor.

The book is fascinating, and presents enough information to really enable you to understand the issues. It almost presents too much information, I can’t imagine I’ll be able to retain a whole lot of it.

One complaint I have is that the author doesn’t make clear what the subject of a chapter or section is. Sometimes I was a couple of pages into it before I was able to really follow it. The author also has a tendency to change subject suddenly, and is difficult to follow at times. The book could have used a stronger editor.

Family Britain provides a very thorough view of British society in this dynamic period. The reader can see the influences on their society and understand the effects they produce. I did enjoy the book a lot, but cannot recommend it unless a person is particularly interested in either Britain or in sociology.

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