cover image Modernity Britain: 1957–1962

Modernity Britain: 1957–1962

David Kynaston. Bloomsbury, $52 (912p) ISBN 978-1-62040-809-4

Kynaston continues his history of postwar Britain (after Austerity Britain: 1945–1951 and Family Britain: 1951–1957) in this rich tapestry of political, socioeconomic, and cultural developments. He profiles a Tory-ruled, post-Suez, largely postcolonial U.K. that was still a highly stratified society, but was attempting to become less so, partly through attempts at educational reforms that would allow more middle- and lower-class children access to better secondary schools. Kynaston shows that while Britain lagged behind the U.S. in purchasing “consumer durables,” it was beginning to catch up. He is particularly interested in urban development, and illustrates major efforts at slum clearance in the industrial cities. Occasionally, Kynaston presents a confusing tableau of unrelated events, such as a housewife’s washing routine, the popularity of a TV show called The Archers, and the debate over where Prince Charles should go to boarding school. He sometimes offers too much detail, as in quoting several reviews of a relatively minor Arnold Wesker play, and many of his Britishisms—“Teddy boys,” an “HMSO,” a “PPB,” and “Podsnappian”—will be lost on American readers. Still, Kynaston has a knack for narrative pacing and manages to hold the reader’s attention in this comprehensive, multifaceted look at a changing period. B&w photo inserts. (Dec.)