When A. J. P. Taylor undertook the final volume of the old Oxford History of England, it was ‘England’, not ‘History’, which he found the problematic part of his brief.(1) The volume under review is the latest contribution to the New Oxford History of England, and how things have changed since Taylor’s day.
In bringing his history of Britain almost to the present, Paul Addison is the latest to tackle the problem which Macaulay identified in 1841: English history, he wrote, ‘from 1688 to the French Revolution, is even to educated people almost a terra incognita’. For Walter Bagehot in 1876: ‘the events for which one generation cares most are often those of which the next knows least.
The first thing that stands out from this study is how passionate and volcanic was E. P. Thompson’s intellectual life as a historian, Marxist thinker, and informed campaigner. He was devoted to reason. Indeed, one of the left-wing journals with which he was involved was entitled The New Reasoner.
Mel Cousins’ Poor Relief in Ireland, 1851–1914 is an addition to the developing historiographical field of poor relief in not just Irish history writing but at an international level.
Given the amount of excellent accounts of post-war Britain that have appeared in the past decade or so, one is tempted to state that readers of contemporary British history have never had it so good.
A top-notch monograph in the Cambridge imperial and post-colonial studies series, this book reflects the kind of thorough coverage of issues plus analytical depth that one has come to expect from doctoral research in Commonwealth history at Oxford University.
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.
A sure sign of the ageing process is when events that are part of your own memory start appearing in works of history. And so it is now the case with the 1980s; for one’s students, ‘Thatcher’ is a person of whom they have no firsthand knowledge, just a figure whom many of their lecturers and supervisors are prone to paint as the devil incarnate.
Modernity Britain marks the third part of Kynaston’s Tales of a New Jerusalem series. The first volume – Austerity Britain 1945–51 – covered the immediate post-war years of the Attlee government, while its successor, Family Britain 1951–57, took the story up to the end of the Eden administration.
It is a rare thing for a reviewer to read a book which on its own terms, in its content and argument, leaves nothing open to serious criticism. Professor Diarmaid Ferriter’s Ambiguous Republic: Ireland in the 1970s is one such book.