Andrew Wilson is an extraordinarily skilled, energetic and enterprising historian. This book charts the life of Britain since Elizabeth II’s Coronation in 1953 and leads right up to the hand over of 10 Downing Street from Tony Blair to Gordon Brown in 2008.
This is the third volume in Wilson’s trilogy building on The Victorians and After the Victorians.
Wilson’s thesis is that these final decades of modern Britain is a picture of decline and fall.
As with Wilson’s previous writing this is not a methodical history but a picture painted through the telling of particular instance, mini biographies, high culture and quite a lot of journalistic gossip.
In particular, Wilson chronicles the misfortunes of organised Christianity, the fate of the Royal Family and the flow of intellectual history with extraordinary insight, wisdom and liveliness. Wilson’s summary of other complex events like the Suez crisis and Vietnam are marvellous examples of the distillation of a great deal of reading, reflection and learning. Wilson’ skill is in the sharp exploration of change, movements and political trends. He does this with considerable style and flair.
The book is divided into seven sections entitled Churchill and Eden; MacMillan; a fourteenth Earl and a fourteenth Mr Wilson; the 1970s; the Lady; Mr Major’s Britain and the Project.
It might be interesting here for any reader to ask what are the defining events of these decades and what are we to make of the monarchy. In what way have the Beatles, Princess Diane, the miners’ strike, the Cold War, Thatcher of the collapse or the Soviet Union shaped who we are and what we believe to be true in and through our shared anthologies, ideologies and folk memories?
For Wilson the post Second World War austerity and an age of deference gives way to a world of multi-cultural diversity which he feels very uncomfortable with. While there can be no doubt that there has been an advance of liberal enlightenment during the twentieth century, Wilson sees any material advances more than cancelled out by what he regards as an apocalyptic process of social and cultural decay. Wilson feels much more comfortable amongst the Victorians.
How this history will take shape in its next chapter remains for us to write.