cover image This Blessed Plot: Britain and Europe from Churchill to Blair

This Blessed Plot: Britain and Europe from Churchill to Blair

Hugo Young. Overlook Press, $39.95 (543pp) ISBN 978-0-87951-939-1

With immense knowledge matched by a sure sense of narrative, Young has written the best book yet about Britain's attempt to make sense of itself after its era of empire. He takes a chronological approach, focusing on heads of state and those who carried out their policies, starting, as the subtitle indicates, with Winston Churchill and ending with Tony Blair. For 50 years, he writes, Britain has ""struggled to reconcile the past she could not forget with the future she could not avoid."" The question that drives the book is whether Britain, with its mythology of exceptionalism (famously expressed by Shakespeare in Richard II, from which Young takes his title), can accept the reality that it will have to become merely another country bound in some sort of European union. In the end, Young predicts, most Britons will accept the reality of alignment with the Continental nations, an acceptance that could have come about far less painfully four decades earlier had Britain's leaders not clung so fiercely to an obsolete sense of imperial grandeur. Readers who enjoyed Young's biography of Thatcher (The Iron Lady) will be glad to learn that he has brought his sharp sense of the intersection of character and policy to his appraisals of major political figures. Young combines the best qualities of a historian--thoroughness, context and a sense of the sweep of time--with the best qualities of a journalist--accessibility, skepticism and pungent judgment. (May)