cover image History in Our Time

History in Our Time

David Cannadine. Yale University Press, $42 (320pp) ISBN 978-0-300-07702-5

Cannadine intends this to be a ""festive and high-spirited book,"" and while it may not live up to those particular adjectives, it remains an entertaining read for those interested in the history of Britain over the past 100 years. The 30 essays collected here all began as book reviews written for various periodicals (chiefly the London Review of Books, the New York Review of Books and the New Republic) in the years 1988 through 1997. Taking the book in question as a starting point, Cannadine puts the subject in a larger historical context, from finding parallels between Margaret Thatcher and Florence Nightingale to explaining Britain's rising divorce rate. In the first third of the book, ""Royals in Toils,"" Cannadine (The Decline and Fall of the British Aristocracy) makes a convincing case that although the monarchy may be evolving, in many ways it has remained ""remarkably consistent and unchanging"" for the past 200 years. For the most part, Cannadine provides enough context to make this book accessible to the general reader, though it's debatable whether many will be as interested in English M.P. Robert Boothby or historian A.J.P. Taylor as in, say, Nightingale, Churchill or Oswald Mosley. Reading these essays in succession, the reader will pick up not only on a certain amount of factual repetition but on a sameness of structure. These essays are better savored ""in moderation,"" as the author himself suggests, in order to appreciate his insights and wit. (Nov.)