Never having been a big reader of non-fiction, over the past couple of months I’ve been struck by the urge and run with it. The Making of Modern Britain had been languishing on my Kindle for eons, probably having been a Daily Deal back in the stone age. And what an enjoyable read it was.
Andrew Marr covers the history of Britain from the death of Queen Victoria until the end of World War Two, flitting masterfully between social and political developments, and giving an overview of both world wars that manages to avoid overwhelming detail, while still giving an excellent summation of both periods.
I particularly enjoyed the character profiles he conjured up, painting a vivid picture of an abstract figure, before revealing them to be someone history is intimately familiar with. It’s Churchill who gets the majority of page time, but for such a pivotal figure in the hearts and minds of British history, I really can’t complain.
The only area I felt was particularly skimmed over was the troubles in Ireland. It’s something I’ve never had the best grasp of, and didn’t come away feeling enlightened over.
I highlighted a lot here, and have already been boring/entertaining work colleagues and family with titbits of information. I had no idea that the writer of “I Do Like to Be Beside the Seaside” (Mark Sheridan) killed himself after poor reception from a Glasgow audience. (In fact, there’s a lot here about the development of Edwardian music halls I’d had no inkling of, and the parallels with modern X-Factor/Britain’s Got Talent culture are striking.) Perhaps the most striking stand-out fact was Karl Marx’s daughter Eleanor being talked into a suicide pact by a lover who had already married someone else, and promptly re-joined his wife as Eleanor killed herself.
And just so I don’t bore you with full paragraphs on each one, here are my other highlights:
•Churchill’s father Sir Randolph may or may not have challenged the Prince of Wales to a duel
•In the early days of automobiles, petrol was only available from chemists
•During World War One, Lloyd George tricked the King into announcing his intentions to give up alcohol for the duration, implying that parliament would do the same. They then pulled a ‘lol psych’ on him.
•“Kitchener once said that he objected to discussing sensitive military issues in cabinet because they all went home and told their wives – except for Lloyd George who went home and told somebody else’s wife.” (p. 135)
•The Daily Mail sponsored the development of Welwyn Garden City to the point that there was a Dailymail Village(!)
•Virginia Woolf’s epic over-reaction to dinner at Richmond station, where she “looked into the lowest pit of human nature; saw flesh still unmoulded to the shape of humanity – where it is the act of eating and drinking that degrades, or whether people who lunch at restaurants are naturally degraded, one can certainly hardly face one’s own humanity again afterwards.” To be fair, I feel a bit like that after the dinner time rush at Nottingham McDonald’s.
•The entire existence of the Kindred of the Kibbo Kift. Amazing.
•The sentence: “Arnold Leese, a retired vet from Stamford in Lincolnshire and a world authority on camel diseases.” #CareerGoals, apart from the whole commanding the International Fascist League thing. Dude should have stuck to camels.
•As a wedding present, Hitler gave Oswald Mosley A FRAMED PICTURE OF HIMSELF. I know what my family are all getting for Christmas. (That’s pictures of me by the way, not Hitler).
•That famous London spirit during the Blitz, including a shop with only three standing walls and a sign reading “more open than usual”.
•And finally, the hard to even visualise fact that 130,000 of the American GIs sent to England were black, when the country’s total black population beforehand was only 8,000.
[Read from 24 February – 10 March 2017]