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Bright Young People: The Rise and Fall of a Generation 1918-1940

3.58  ·  Rating details ·  563 ratings  ·  72 reviews
The Bright Young People were one of the extraordinary youth cults in British history. A pleasure-seeking band of bohemian party-givers and blue-blooded socialites, they romped through the 1920s gossip columns. But the quest for pleasure came at a price. This work talks about of England's 'lost generation' of the Jazz Age.
Hardcover, 322 pages
Published October 4th 2007 by Chatto & Windus
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3.58  · 
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 ·  563 ratings  ·  72 reviews

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Jan 02, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I thoroughly enjoyed this moving and informative account of the 1920s British band of pleasure-seeking bohemians and blue blooded socialites that comprised the "Bright Young People". D.J. Taylor's fascinating book explores the main events and the key players, throughout the 1920s, 1930s, World War Two and into the post-WW2 era.

I encountering many names that I was already quite familiar with (e.g. Cecil Beaton, Elizabeth Ponsonby, the Jungman sisters, Patrick Balfour, Diana and Nancy Mitford, Bri
Dec 11, 2011 rated it it was ok
I would never have thought that anyone could write a book about the Jazz Age that could be so sleep-inducing! The author constantly goes into tedious detail where it is not warranted. The core group of the Bright Young People of London in the 1920's were the first people, via modern media, to be famous for being famous. They had no special talent or skills so how much can you write about them? (There were some people on the edge of this group, such as Evelyn Waugh, who went on to greater accompl ...more
M. D.  Hudson
Mar 29, 2012 rated it liked it
I had very little interest in reading this book, and it took me awhile to get hooked by it, but I do recommend it, flawed though it is. It seems every era of prosperity has its brat pack of flibbertigibbit young people with too much time on their hands, too much cleverness and not enough enduring talent. It’s called, I’m tempted to say, life. The Bright Young People (hereafter referred to as BYP) were a group of aristocratic and/or well-heeled young people (and their hangers on) who started doin ...more
Nov 10, 2012 rated it it was ok
I fell into this book sort of by accident. It started with reading a couple of the Patrick Leigh Fermor travel books which reminded me that I am fascinated by the period between 1890 and 1939, when we were wrenched (in my opinion) into the modern world -- and the period between WWI and WWII was the new world's childhood. I picked up Robert Graves' The Long Weekend, a social history of 1921-1939 which is a terrific, idiosyncratic read and then plunged into Bright Young People.

I am not a bit smar
Apr 02, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Once I arrived at the second or third chapter I found this book difficult to put down for the night. The style of the writing keeps readers moving along at a fast pace, perhaps reminding us of the frenetic pace of the 1920s themselves. Each prominent "Bright Young Person"'s life and character is detailed, with portraits drawn clearly. After reading this book one almost feels as though one knows each member of the group personally. Among the members of the group upon whom focus is placed are Nanc ...more
Elevate Difference
Jan 10, 2009 rated it really liked it
As someone who has always described myself as an "old soul," I have a natural predisposition to understanding and appreciating the past. Though I recognize the implications and naiveté of such a wish, not a day goes by that I still don't pine, yearn, and frankly, tingle at the mere thought of being a young woman alive sometime during the first half of the twentieth century. In my opinion, those first fifty years garnered far more snazzier fashions, thought-provoking art, and interesting people t ...more
David Corvine
Apr 15, 2013 rated it it was ok
I had previously read the biographies of Stephen Tennent and Brian Howard, also Paula Byrne's very interesting book Mad World, so I found little new in this work. The exception being the material regarding Elizabeth Ponsonby, the author had access to her family's archive, unfortunately there was little to justify the detail (to the point of tedium) with which Mr. Taylor treated this individual. She was one of the less significant members of the Bright Young People... really just an alcoholic who ...more
Jul 07, 2009 rated it it was ok
Shelves: nonfiction
With their older siblings and friends dead on the battlefields of France, Mayfair's jeunesse doree spent much of the 1920s acting out as outrageously as possible, the celebrity gossip columns in the hottest pursuit. This book picks over their, in many ways, tragic lives. Evelyn Waugh's Vile Bodies, which sends up the same set, tells the story better.
Annie Garvey
Feb 27, 2014 rated it liked it
This book is probably a little too esoteric for me. I found the story of Elizabeth Ponsonby and her parents Arthur and Dorothea heartbreaking. "The Bright Young People" were the Paris Hiltons, Lindsay Lohans, and the reality stars of their day. It's sad that some bright young things never know when to leave the party.
This is a bit dry and reads like a thesis. It would have benefited greatly from tighter editing to cut repetition and correct a tendency to wander.
I recommend Serious Pleasures: the Life of Stephen Tennant by Philip Hoare if you're interested in the colorful people of this era.
Mar 26, 2009 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: British, 1920s, post-WW1, upper-class, youth culture
Shelves: auto-biographies
Bright Young People is an enthusiastic romp through the history of the most fascinating celebrity youth movements of the early British twentieth century.

Drawing on access to a number of personal diaries, this expose on the lives of such celebrities as Elizabeth Ponsonby, Evelyn Waugh and Cecil Beaton demonstrates clearly that the celebrity culture of today is not new in any way. The drug-fuelled traumatic lifestyle of Brenda Dean Paul, pursued on a daily basis by the London newspapers across UK
An interesting book about the 1920s bright young things. Full of upper class aesthetes and their hangers on, it charts the parties, frivolities, attempts at doing a proper job, attempts at literature, hedonism, excess and general silliness of this group. You sense the lack of direction, too young for the war and therefore lacking a certain cachet. Some names stand out, as they went on to greater things; Evelyn Waugh, John Betjeman, Cecil Beaton, Nancy Mitford to name a few. Others had less spect ...more
This is somewhere between a group biography and a social history, and I think that lack of distinction is why I didn't like it more. A great deal of it is devoted to the life of Elizabeth Ponsonby, whom Taylor puts forth as a typical "Bright Young Person", but there isn't quite enough of her life for me to really feel that it was a well-rounded account of it. Simultaneously, there's enough of it that not enough time is devoted to other Bright Young People, and the whole book feels rather shallow ...more
Erica Chambers
Mar 07, 2012 rated it liked it
I am not totally sure why D.J Taylor wrote this book. He looks down on the phenomenon of the BYP's and thus spends very little time concentrating on the rise of the BYP - but relishes the fall. The parties and Treasure Hunts of the 1920's aren't covered any depth of detail. The book sets up the subject; introduces the characters and then jumps straight to the early 1930's - when everything was starting to wind down.
He dismisses the majority of the main characters as silly, empty headed and affe
Elizabeth (Miss Eliza)
*Special Content only on my blog, Strange and Random Happenstance, during Jazzy July to celebrate the release of Lauren Willig's The Other Daughter, including introductions by Lauren! (July 2015)

The 1920s in England spawned a unique subculture. The Bright Young Things, people who partied every night, always had just the right bon mot, and never failed to make headlines in the newspapers, many written by their own set, swept through the country. While their parents might have thought of them as t
Father: "I should have thought that a nightclub was the very last place a daughter of mine would go to ..."
Daughter: "It usually is, darling."

Not the first generational subset to dedicate themselves so wholeheartedly to hedonism, but perhaps the first ones to do it with such reckless, absurdist abandon.

The circumstances of an Empire's spectacular affluence falling to a generation half in shock from the carnage and yes, absurdism of the Great War--- added up to a unique position for the well-off
Maryann MJS1228
This is the story of a group of privileged young people who captivate London press with their antics (read: bad behavior and total willingness to behave like idiots in public) and occasional brushes with the law. No, it's not the story of Lauren and Heidi or Paris and Lindsey. The subjects are upper class twenty-somethings in the 1920s London.

It starts out slow - Taylor actually spends a chapter pondering why they were called the "Bright Young People." Once it kicks into gear, around chapter 4,
May 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, group
This was much more interesting than I thought it would be, because the author puts the antics of the group into context, socially and politically. There was still a lot of detail about parties and places to be seen, but it was not simply an extended gossip column.
As an aside: Did anyone actually like Cecil Beaton, or was he merely tolerated because he could set up a pretty photograph?
Snail in Danger (Sid) Nicolaides
Dec 28, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people interested in the real life context behind the books of Nancy Mitford and Evelyn Waugh
Shelves: history, lit-crit
I loved the cover as soon as I saw it in a bookshop, so I requested it from the library to see if it was good enough to buy. A scathing remark from a character in Bury Her Deep that he was not a bright young person reminded me that I had this waiting to be read, so I cracked it open.

Either this book left out heaps of context, or the audience was people who are expected to know more about the significance of these people ... but I thought the book was supposed to be about that? (In retrospect I
May 16, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Throughout much of the 1920s, Londoners had a front-row seat to the antics of a small group of socialites about town. These young men and women staged lavish parties, disrupted activities with scavenger hunts and other stunts, and provided fodder for gossip columnists and cartoonists. This group, dubbed the 'Bright Young People,' was fictionalized in novels, recounted in memoirs, and is now the subject of D. J. Taylor's collective history of their group.

An accomplished author, Taylor provides an
Dec 10, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-in-2014
I'm not sure how I came across this book but the name sounded cool, 'Bright Young People'. Of course after I read the description it became clear that the author was not necessarily referring to their brains when he said 'bright'. But it's definitely a term that I can see making a resurgence. Hell I'd like to be a part of a group known as the Bright Young People, fun but also smart. The group in the 1920s that he profiles is mostly fun. They have brains but they focus more on throwing outrageou ...more
May 18, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
With deep insight, understanding, and compassion, D.J.Taylor takes us on a fascinating journey through time, as he revisits the world of the eccentric, young party people who made up the so-called "Bright Young People" crowd. The portrait of this lost generation is at the same time exciting, hilarious, sad - and sobering in more ways than one, considering how it all ended. This is a deeply satisfying book, that manages to recreate the magic of the jazz age without falling into the trap of nostal ...more
M- S__
Jan 22, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
After watching the 2013 documentary Teenage , I found myself revisiting this image of maybe 8 young people dressed as babies, sitting in strollers with a narration about the "Freak Parties" the Bright Young People were throwing. I thought to myself, this is it. This is the party I want to be at. The whole scene had me entranced. It was the sort of eccentric androgynous 80s coke binge thing I had never really seen associated with the 20s youth culture, and it was a thing I desperately wanted to ...more
Jan 26, 2013 rated it really liked it
Elizabeth Ponsonby, Tom Driberg, Anthony Powell, the Mitford sisters, Evelyn Waugh, and Cecil Beaton are just a few of the Bright Young People in Taylor’s history of this group of party goers in post WWI England. Some were destined for success, some for a life of mediocrity or failure, but all were part of a brilliant media circus. Waugh, Beaton, and Powell , in particular, used the social scene as a launching pad for their careers. Taylor uses diaries and media accounts as well as fictional por ...more
Rob Atkinson
A well written and thorough account of London's "Bright Young People", the party set that scandalized Britain in the 1920's. This is framed as a serious social history, and those expecting a frothy series of anecdotes and delicious bon mots may be disappointed as I was. Other than marginal figures in the scene such as Beaton and Waugh, the principal figures in the scene are largely unsympathetic in their frivolousness and lack of any meaningful accomplishment; they come across as rich spoiled br ...more
Jenn Estepp
Given the subject matter, it would be difficult not to write a readable, interesting book, no? But, if you aren't already an aficionado of the Bright Young Things, I don't think this would be a good introduction. You're better off reading Waugh or Mitford or Powell. The luxury of fiction is that one can cut out the boring bits ... This is not fiction and as a scholarly text, it can be a bit dry and snooze-inducing after a while. Also, the organization seemed somewhat disjointed - lots of jumping ...more
Jul 25, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This book is about two groups of people, successes and victims. The first group consisted of Evelyn Waugh, Anthony Powell, Nancy Mitford, and Cecil Beaton, all if whom, with the exception of Mitford, started out with conventional middle class upbringings. Harold Acton eventually emerged as a chronicler of debauched Italian nobility. The victims were an odd assortment of nobility and the well connected and for them the post World War I years were marked by party going and a failure to live up to ...more
Steven Wilson
Sep 05, 2012 rated it liked it
I so wanted to like this book. The period between the two World Wars interests me, as does the cultural change which, in two short decades, had a populace which remembered one devastating, senseless war willing to go to war again. I thought this book would deliver some real analysis of the psychology and sociology of a generation. Instead, it's a bunch of gossip. Snotty gossip. Not even fun snotty gossip. It's pretty much a catalog of what rich person went to what party on what night. It doesn't ...more
Jan 17, 2009 rated it liked it
This was a very well-written, well-organized, enjoyable and subtle history of a select set of wealthy and elite (and would-be wealthy and elite) English youth in the 1920s. Taylor both recuperates the value and interest of their exploits and acknowledges the sad and wasteful dimensions of their devil-may-care approach to life and expenditures of both energy and money. The book gets a little bit repetitive because the costume parties, slangy quips, and rebellion against parents were a bit repetit ...more
Mary Anne
Mar 30, 2009 rated it liked it
This book was of interest to me since I've immersed myself for the past few years in novels and biographies of this period. I especially enjoyed the Mitford's and this book was about young people in London Society in the 1920s. However, I didn't enjoy the author's writing style and couldn't help feeling that I was reading a dissertation. Sometimes it seemed a bit dry and scholarly which didn't really fit the subject matter for me somehow. I'm currently reading Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh which ...more
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David John Taylor (born 1960) is a critic, novelist and biographer. After attending school in Norwich, he read Modern History at St John's College, Oxford, and has received the 2003 Whitbread Biography Award for his life of George Orwell.

He lives in Norwich and contributes to The Daily Telegraph, The Guardian, The Independent, New Statesman and The Spectator among other publications.

He is married
“This is a characteristic image from the Bright Young People's world: the thought of sorrowing in sunlight, good times gone, the myriad champagne corks bobbing away on a stream turned unexpectedly chill.” 0 likes
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