cover image A History of Britain: 1945 to Brexit

A History of Britain: 1945 to Brexit

Jeremy Black. Indiana Univ., $28 trade paper (276p) ISBN 978-0-253-02999-7

In this text intended for American audiences, Black (The Holocaust: History and Memory), a professor of history at the University of Exeter, narrates the history of Britain since 1945 as it looks in the harsh light of Britain’s 2016 vote to leave the European Union. The book proceeds thematically, not chronologically, through sections on, among other subjects, the environment, the economy, and Britain’s changing culture. This thematic focus, combined with a fatal reliance on the passive voice, results in a history so bloodless and diffuse that it is sometimes difficult to recognize the society being discussed as modern Britain and not an alien land where “repeatedly, alongside international and national environmental trends, there were regional and local ones.” More problematic still is Black’s lack of nuance on the topics of gender and race; a passage on women entering the workforce in equal numbers to men is accompanied by a lament about the “feminization of society” and its detrimental impact on working-class men, while the section on nonwhite immigration to Britain is garnished by an anecdote about Black’s mother’s dog barking at a West Indian postman because it “had never seen a ‘black’ person” before. Any lingering doubts about the book’s deep mediocrity are banished by its ending: Brexit gets fewer than five pages. (Aug.)