Martin Johnes is an industrious historian of 20th–century Wales, and has published extensively on topics such as sport, national identity, the 1966 Aberfan disaster and the civic history of Cardiff.(1) Wales since 1939 is a fusion of several of these endeavours (and more), and one which has produced an integrated and fresh perspective on modern Wales.
The jacket cover of Peter Hennessy’s new work describes the author as ‘the UK’s leading contemporary historian’, a reputation soundly based on a string of highly regarded books such as Cabinet, The Hidden Wiring, Whitehall and The Secret State, as well as on his high profile as a media presenter and commentator.
What a great idea! The only wonder is why no publishing house thought of commissioning a book on the topic before. The reader’s delight starts straight from looking at the cover illustration – a ‘translation’ of Harry Beck’s celebrated London Tube Map, in which Waterloo Station becomes Gare de Napoléon.
Few cultural commentators would feel brave enough to identify a particular month and year when human character underwent a significant transformation- the novelist Virginia Woolf had no such reservations. According to her, December 1910 marked one of these distinctive turning points.
Contemporary punditocracy suggests that the Left has never grasped the joy of shopping, its late 20th–century political katabasis being no clearer indication.
This book was commissioned by the Bank of England, when Mervyn (now Lord) King was Governor. The aim was to produce a popular history of the Bank, an institution important in Britain since its inception. If it was intended to be a popular volume, the kind that flies off the shelves in bookshops, I hope that I’m right when I say it will not.