Michael Billington has written this volume with an almost encyclopedic mastery of his material. His survey of post-war English theatre covers the periMichael Billington has written this volume with an almost encyclopedic mastery of his material. His survey of post-war English theatre covers the period from 1945 up to around the end of the Blair/Brown years in 2008 (an afterword attempts to predict the future for theatre from 2008). Billington's views are not based on a trawl through the cuttings library but on his work as a theatre critic. He has seen many of the productions that he writes about adding value to the trenchant opinions that he expresses. The juxtaposition with the changing political events and agendas of this lengthy period is brilliantly done so that theatre doesn't just hold a mirror up to nature but actively responds. Billington spends much time on the great national companies with verdicts on the different regimes- Too many musicals at the National under Trevor Nunn; the RSC a mess under Adrian Noble. Regional theatre and independent companies are also surveyed as are actors with some brilliant anecdotes. For Michael Billington writers were and are the lifeblood of the theatre and he spends much time on texts and ideas. Refreshingly his knowledge is so wide and varied that he discusses texts that would merit a footnote in other less respectful surveys. He is not afraid to defend contreversial pieces such as Saved by Edward Bond or to admit he initially got it wrong about Sarah kane and Blasted. His grasp of political events is often personal but he engages with a historical and political narrative with the freedom a historian might envy. All in all this is a very readable and intelligent book written with love and heart so that one would love an updated version to be issued in the years to come. Have his predictions about the "future" in 2008 come true and how does he feel now? Along with Richard Eyre's and Nicholas Wrights Changing Stages which covers a longer period this provides an almost definitive survey with the bonus of Billingtons own personal take- the writer is central- hence his love for Pinter and his consideration of theatrical auteurs such as Peter Gill. Can we have an update Mr Billington? Encore Encore....please sir, I want some more....more
David Kynaston has set himself the task of writing a new micro History of Britain-Tales of a New Jerusalem in volumes from 1945 to 1979 or possibly noDavid Kynaston has set himself the task of writing a new micro History of Britain-Tales of a New Jerusalem in volumes from 1945 to 1979 or possibly now? The first two doorstep size books (Austerity Britain & Family Britain) both covered periods of five and six years respectively and were marketed as double volume editions each consisting of two books. So far so eccentric but they did offer good value in the expensive hardback market and were beautifully constructed. Modernity Britain was originally advertised on websites such as Amazon and Goodreads as a book covering the years 1957-1962 with a similar length and double volume format. At some point Bloomsbury seem to have lost their nerve and the resultant book is a mere 300 plus pages covering only a two year period from 1957-59 but pretty much for the same price as previous more weighty volumes. So what has happened, considering initial adverts showed a longer book. Has Kynaston simply not finished writing it? Or has Bloomsbury decided to cash-in on the success of the earlier books rushing the unfinished hardback into the shops? Waffle about launching in a variety of formats/platforms is obfuscation. This is effectively half a book and seems to constrain Kynaston's fluent and anecdotal style. A weak start, seemingly random with a quote from Enoch Powell on housing doesn't bode well and in truth Kynaston seems both less confident and less assured in this volume sometimes launching on lists (oddly punctuated with brackets and little clear linking or point) and less memorable anecdotes and coverage. The joy of previous volumes was the drip drip effect of diarists and stories that was possible in a long book. This is both less possible and less evident in this volume. Still, there are good sections on Racism and Education in the period covered and some successful elegies as Kynaston gets into his stride. A pity then that something has gone awry and Bloomsbury have decided to put profit before quality. This is still a good read (though less fluent and less confident) but undercuts the achievement of previous volumes by being half a book. Ironically, in this new age of austerity one might expect publishers to make more effort to provide consistent value for money. Readers enjoy but beware before you buy this anorexic volume- half a book isn't always better than the whole story. ...more
A Gambling man is a book that deals with the first 10 years of the reign of Charles 11 and covers the crucial period when the Restoration Settlement wA Gambling man is a book that deals with the first 10 years of the reign of Charles 11 and covers the crucial period when the Restoration Settlement was introduced and bedded in with the machinations at court as Charles 11 had to use all his guile and experience to survive haughty courtiers, naughty mistresses and a populace that were yet to be convinced about the new king. Similarly, it takes a European perspective, particularly focusing on France to show how charles had to please a foreign audience as well.Uglow is incapable of writing a bad book and her attention to detail- in particular- the milieu of court and courtiers- is both telling and atmospheric. The gambling metaphor itself is less satisfactory. Charles reigned for 25 years and if he gambled with political or religious options the results could have been catastrophic. Uglow sees him constantly beset by issues and problems both domestic and foreign. The religious settlement evaded his own wishes for toleration and management of parliament seemed unpredictable and frustrating for a king whose Stuart roots erred towards absolutism. Uglows narrative does see short termism as the rule of thumb- Charles hardly got through one crisis before another engulfed him. Uglow doesn't always explain why Charles seemed to be constantly wrong-footed by parliament but does give excellent pen portraits of ministers and advisors- notably Buckingham and other members of the 'Cabal'. His mistresses are dealt with in a non judgemental way despite the fact contemporaries constantly judged him and Uglow chimes in with some scholarship over the last 20-30 years that sees the kings increasingly political role as a product of the more confident parliamentary scene- JR Jones in his book Charles 11- Royal politician(1986) also sees Charles having to adopt a constant short term reactive agenda. He strikes a more heroic figure in crisis such as the fire, where he literally helped to douse the flames and Uglow is good at using theatre as a barometer of the political scene- plays literally played out and commented on courtly intrigue. Overall Charles is tainted historically by The secret Treaty of Dover where a French pay off in return for his suposed announcement of a conversion to catholicism epitomised (for some) his dissembling nature and life in thrall to the mighty Louis of France. Uglow is sympathetic to Charles and sees him as playing a double game with Louis. A Gambling Man is certainly racy, readable and informative about all aspects of the Restoration regime. It is not a masterpiece like Claire Tomalin's biography of Pepys but has a narrative that is sometimes surprising and full of anecdotes and memorable information. It is no gamble. Reading it is a very safe bet. ...more
David Reynolds has neither the glamorous wordplay of a Simon Schama or the allusions to modernity of the tetchy academic David Starkey. Yet he is fastDavid Reynolds has neither the glamorous wordplay of a Simon Schama or the allusions to modernity of the tetchy academic David Starkey. Yet he is fast becoming a shrewd and thoughtful TV historian and a writer of impressive clarity. Empire of Liberty is an outstanding book in that on such a broad historical canvas he can pinpoint specific examples to tell the story of the growth of the USA as a superpower and its inherent contradictions as the country that was in part built on slavery and a racism that exists right up to today. For Reynolds there are three key themes (would Niall Ferguson call them "apps"?) - Empire, Liberty and Faith. It is true that such a general survey cannot cover everything and Reynolds says little about the American West; gunfighters or other more obvious topics. It is also true that the chapters covering most recent history seem rushed and lacking in real detail. However, his narrative is still compelling looking at debunking the Columbus story and forensically examining the growth of the founding states of the later union. There are effective pen portraits of chief protagonists and some well selected stories covering less well known characters. His use of documentary evidence is careful and thoughtful and there are a range of literary as well as political voices. The choice of photos could have been more varied but there is a detailed and extensive bibliography. One wonders whether Reynolds publishers should have been tempted to commission a two or maybe three volume History. Reynolds seems a little overwhelmed by the complexity of the later story- I wanted more on Kennedy, Johnson and Carter as well as a greater depth on Tricky Dicky. the Clinton presidency is also fascinating and some aspects of his campaigning methods could have influenced Obama- Reynolds missed the opportunity to compare. If one accepts that a one volume history is needed then Reynolds would be hard to beat- not only because it will lead you to more detailed academic volumes but also because he writes with confidence and crystal clear prose- highly recommended. ...more
A general reader might have been forgiven for thinking that this book was written by the editor of Heat magazine. They might find it hard to locate thA general reader might have been forgiven for thinking that this book was written by the editor of Heat magazine. They might find it hard to locate the 21st century celebrity gossip because this is part of the prestigious New Oxford History of England series by another Boyd Hilton. This is excellent academic History with more than a large pinch of style thrown in and some tricky sections that have to be read more than once to ensure understanding (or not as the case may be). I did find the sections on economics and religion a tough read and they were close to defeating me at times but there is so much brilliant detail and much intellectual grist to the mill. The style is best reflected in excellent pen portraits- Pitt as a sexual political machine with no inner life; Canning and Huskisson as young Turks and Nelson getting short shrift from Hilton. Granted this book is not as racy as Roy Porters Penguin History of the eighteenth century and is not afraid to layer the narrative with a frightening level of detail. Overall excellent stuff with a bibliography to die for and within which there are piquant comments about previous writers- JCD Clark and his groundbreaking work- mentioned because his work has been so influential as to making a Hanoverian Historian joke- BC is now referred to as "Before Clark". The title of the book is framed as a question and in this thorough stylish piece of History Hilton goes to town attempting an answer. Warning-probably not for a beginner though.
How does one write a History book? Should it be one encompassing the broad sweep of time? One content to mine a decade or one focussing on a single yeHow does one write a History book? Should it be one encompassing the broad sweep of time? One content to mine a decade or one focussing on a single year looking for patterns or promoting a turning point? Great men or the masses? Thematic or dramatic? Micro or macro? Thesis driven or narrative driven? David Kynaston is in the micro History school. His follow up to Austerity Britain is another huge volume on a period of six years- 1951-1957 and his thesis is in the title focussing on families as a microcosm of the nation as a whole. The irony of these huge volumes examining austerity and the climb out of austerity is that the volumes themselves are substantial and heavyweight. Granted, there are nods to austerity in the Black and white photos and rough hewn paper but the weighty cost of the modern hardback (£25) and its weight in the hand or on the lap is both a nod to the non-kindle champions (this is a proper BOOK!!!!) and ironically an advert for why the book on a kindle would do less damage to ones hands as it struggles to hold such a weighty volume....
Yet, in reading Kynastons patchwork prose the rewards are certainly worth the weight lifting medalsl needed to read the actual book.As with Austerity Britain Kynaston somewhat eccentrically sells two volumes in one book. He uses mass observation diarists (carefully selected and reminiscent of Simon Garfields volumes such as We Are At War) mixed with primary and secondary sources and a linking commentary. Anecdotes from famous names are mixed beautifully with the mass observations voices to create a detailed description which is both thematic and narrative driven of the years in question starting with the Festival of Britain in 1951 and ending with the Suez debacle of 1956. The weighty volume gains its own momentum and is compulsive reading. This volume with its focus on the family has a sociological centre which is effective and informative and one gets a real flavour for the period and its legacy.As a child in the 1960s and 1970s I was amazed at how many products originated in the 1950s and how many of the themes resonant in the 1970s ( as examined by Dominic Sandbrook who also writes in books covering 6 or 7 years at a time) such as union power; media influence andthe cost of living were live issues in the 1950s.
An excellent volume. Kynaston isn't the first to use mass observation diaries but he is perhaps the most skilled at making them illustrate a period and a feel for the past. His next volume, Modernity Britain 1957-1963 is out next year. I for one will be looking out for it. ...more
This is a truly excellent book on Henry V11, written with verve and (as expected from a debutante writer working in publishing) some emphasis on the tThis is a truly excellent book on Henry V11, written with verve and (as expected from a debutante writer working in publishing) some emphasis on the telling phrase and racy narrative drive. Penn writes brilliantly not just about Henry Tudor but about the regime he created. As a "usurper" with a less than strong claim to the throne its perhaps no surprise that Henry went to any lengths to maintain his dynasty and anchor the Tudor regime. The last decade of his reign saw something approaching the outlines of an absolute monarchy according to Penn. The level of detail is excellent with the tortuous networks of spies, double agents, double dealing and rampant bribery outlined to the full. Indeed scholarship that sought to emphasize Henrys miserly character is undermined by this account which shows his constantly used option of bribing foreign states to achieve his aims, whether it be to isolate a Yorkist threat such as the Earl of Suffolk (hiding abroad) or ignore papal edicts about the sale and trade of alum which henry gleefully continued, despite its supposed monopoly status under the pope. Vast amounts of money was not only accrued but spent on bribery and gifts despite the fact that on many occasions money was taken and then Henry was double crossed or ignored. Penn writes with verve and has a slightly Starkeyesque way of using phrasing that chimes with modern times. The Wars of the Roses are Turf wars and Jousting is the Tudor equivalent of 'extreme sports'. If the book itself wasn't so scholarly this would come across as an irritating affectation. As it is, Penn has managed to write a book so full of spies it could be compared to The Reckoning (Charles Nicolls account of the death of Christopher Marlowe) or a Le carre Novel. He is also particuarly good on the 'new men' who would try to build their careers under HenryV11 and his son and the rough trade of men such as Empson and Dudley who ended up being hoisted by there ever so rich and corrupt petards when Henry V111 had to put clear blue water between his regime and that of his dad. So a great read which manages to be scholarly and racy at the same time. Its managed to change my view of HenryV11 as not so much the dull interlude between hunchback Richard 111 and gloryboy Henry V111 but a master of his own kingdom in its own right but also a man who went to almost stalinesque lengths to get his own way and raise the funds to secure the Tudor Regime. Impressive work. A great read....more