Saturday 28 November 2020

Guest Review: The Making of Modern Britain: From Queen Victoria to V.E. Day By Andrew Marr

In The Making of Modern Britain, Andrew Marr paints a fascinating portrait of life in Britain during the first half of the twentieth century as the country recovered from the grand wreckage of the British Empire.

Between the death of Queen Victoria and the end of the Second World War, the nation was shaken by war and peace. The two wars were the worst we had ever known and the episodes of peace among the most turbulent and surprising. As the political forum moved from Edwardian smoking rooms to an increasingly democratic Westminster, the people of Britain experimented with extreme ideas as they struggled to answer the question ‘How should we live?’ Socialism? Fascism? Feminism? Meanwhile, fads such as eugenics, vegetarianism and nudism were gripping the nation, while the popularity of the music hall soared. It was also a time that witnessed the birth of the media as we know it today and the beginnings of the welfare state.

Beyond trenches, flappers and Spitfires, this is a story of strange cults and economic madness, of revolutionaries and heroic inventors, sexual experiments and raucous stage heroines. From organic food to drugs, nightclubs and celebrities to package holidays, crooked bankers to sleazy politicians, the echoes of today's Britain ring from almost every page.

Revview: Andrew Marr is a political journalist and television presenter. He had written previously a book entitled “A History of Modern Britain” which described British history from the end of World War II. This book is a prequel, covering the period from the beginning of the 20th century, just a year before the death of Queen Victoria, to the end of World War II in 1945.

This 45 year period starts in the Edwardian era and covers two World Wars and the inter-war period of the 1920s and 1930s. It was a time of great changes. At the start of the 20th century not all men, and no women, could vote. Much of the political power of the country lay in the hands of aristocratic men. Over the first half of the century, Great Britain became a more democratic country, and there were many other changes in the fields of entertainment and culture.

The book is divided into four sections: the Edwardian period; World War I; the inter-war period; and World War II. Each section is divided further into a series of headings covering specific individuals, such as Douglas Haig, commander of British forces in France from 1915 until the end of World War I, or topics such as the abdication of King Edward VIII in 1936. As a political commentator, Andrew Marr gives much emphasis to political events and the various machinations going on within government and political parties. Two figures, namely David Lloyd George and Winston Churchill, feature prominently in the book.

This book covers a wide sweep of history, describing events over almost half a century. As such, I found that some topics were covered in detail, whereas other topics appeared to be touched on but then left with much less information. There are footnotes throughout the book and a comprehensive index at the end. I found  the book an interesting read and plugged a number of gaps in my knowledge, particularly of the periods before and between the two World Wars. For example, I had never heard of the Kindred of the Kibbo Kift, a rival organisation to the Boy Scouts set up during the 1920s and which evolved into the Greenshirts in the 1930s. Overall, I would recommend this book as an introduction to the first part of the 20th century, with references at the end for those wishing to study particular topics or individuals in greater detail.

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