Austerity Britain, 1945-1951

David Kynaston

Walker 2008
A book review by Danny Yee © 2010
A social history of Britain in the six years following the Second World War, Austerity Britain is largely based on personal observations. Official documents and statistics make only occasional appearances and Kynaston draws on diaries, Mass Observation interviews, newspaper letters, memoirs and such-like, even for his treatment of politics and economics. Extracts and quotations from these are integrated into summary narrative. And thirty two pages of black and white photographs are a useful adjunct.

The presentation is broadly chronological, but organised around broad trends and themes and major events rather than narrative. Kynaston covers a huge range of topics: urban planning and architecture, schools and education, class, race and immigration, entertainment and sport, rationing, crime, war and national service, and much more.

This leaves some material broken up a little, but the focus stays on individual topics long enough to give some depth. There are ten pages on "entertainment" in 1947, for example, looking at: reading and what people read, the wireless and early television, gardening, sport (the Great Britain versus the Rest of Europe football game, batsman Denis Compton's record season), and seaside resorts and holiday camps. Similarly, fifteen pages on the 1949 election touch on individual sentiments, the party election manifestos, some of the local campaigns, the polling, experiences and reporting of election day, and the results.

It's hard to know what bias there may have been either in the survival and availability of sources or in Kynaston's selection from them, but the voices he presents are diverse enough that the resulting picture transcends generalisations. Austerity Britain also has a real immediacy.

Austerity Britain does assume some general background, so may be difficult for those unfamiliar with British history. It may appeal most to those with their own memories of the period, or wanting to understand their parents' or grandparents' lives, but it works as a general social history.

February 2010

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%T Austerity Britain, 1945-1951
%A Kynaston, David
%I Walker
%D 2008
%O hardcover, b&w photos, notes, index
%G ISBN 0802716938
%P 692pp