Elevate Difference's Reviews > Bright Young People: The Rise and Fall of a Generation 1918-1940

Bright Young People by D.J. Taylor
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's review
Jan 10, 2009

really liked it
Read in January, 2009

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 than just about anything in the latter half.

In order to get my history fix, I often watch movies from the silent era and golden age of Hollywood (Bette Davis, Bette Davis, Bette Davis!), incorporate certain classic elements into my wardrobe and make-up choices (e.g., fishnet stockings, loose fitting tops with belts, wedged heels), and constantly read about the people, places, and things of the various decades. My latest conquest in the last department is a book called Bright Young People: The Lost Generation of London's Jazz Age, which is a thorough recreation and examination of the life and times of the budding British elite in the roaring '20s. The author, D.J. Taylor, not only provided my fix with his wonderful investigative work, but he also supplied me with the inspiration to find out even more about the people he traces, to read some of the books they wrote, and to finally get my hair waved.

The Bright Young People were a large group of London’s rich and famous young men and women. They’ve been immortalized in literature (Evelyn Waugh being the most prominent author of the period), in movies (Bright Young Things), and in various other types of art. In many ways, they’re immortal beings, which is odd considering they only existed for such a short time span in history. For ten or so years, they ruled the celebrity roost with their charming antics, extravagant parties, and bohemian sensibilities. Gin and tonic, bath and bottle parties, and lighthearted feelings were all the rage with this brood.

In the end, though, their hedonism and the prospect (and eventuality) of war in later years stopped their frolicking and merriment. A number of the Bright Young People failed to escape their hunger for extravagance and succumbed to the effects of alcohol and drugs. Others went to war and perished. Some retired their dancing slippers and hunkered down to a normal life. Many vanished into thin air.

Taylor artfully traces the origins of the Bright Young People with the same effervescent touch the people themselves possess. His language is sassy, sweet, and intelligent. Though he covers a lot of ground in the roughly twenty years, the text never feels heavy or meandering. Instead, it sucks you in like a great novel, or a great piece of gossip. Bright Young People will make you laugh while learning about a group of carefree individuals who, at one point or another, actually lived the life many of us dream of living.

Review by Sara Freeman
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