Sunday, 19 December 2010

The Thirties: an intimate history by Juliet Gardiner

This vast book gives an overview of the political and social history and at the same time reaches deep into the authentic voices of the 1930s, drawing on diaries, letters, and forgotten published texts.  In her preface, Juliet Gardiner acknowledges the various and partial ways in which the decade has been depicted: the long decline towards world war, the effects of the great Depression, the inexorable march of progress and modernity.  Her history seeks to recognise the validity of all these accounts and to explore all of them in great detail, and in this she undoubtedly succeeds.  If there is anything you would like to know about 1930s Britain - and one of the advantages of this book is that it is definitely a history of Britain, not of England - it is probably in here somewhere.

The scope of her project, and the level of detail she seeks to include, sometimes make the book an unwieldy read; at nearly a thousand pages, the hardback is literally unwieldy.  Consequently I read this book rather slowly, the odd chapter here and there, and probably missed some of the narrative drive as a result.  However, Gardiner's achievement is extraordinary and the place she gives to the authentic voices of the period provides a refreshing and, as intended, intimate view of this fascinating period which has so many parallels with our own.

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