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Having It So Good: Britain in the Fifties by…
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Having It So Good: Britain in the Fifties (2006)

by Peter Hennessy

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A great thing about Hennessy's research is that he keeps an open mind while using his first class access to political figures and exhaustively reading cabinet minutes, diaries and essentially collating everything that could be of relevance. The result is a remarkable portrait of the decade.

The book full of surprises. He shows for example that the fast exit from empire had as much to do with removing financial burdens as accepting independence movements, or the way that successive Conservative governments carried the crushingly expensive "British New Deal" welfare state and Keynesian big government spending as a "modern" understanding of the economy (uncomfortable but we can't do anything about it). Almost nowhere do 1950's British government ministers examine the positive aspects or German and European economic success (Eden did slightly but didn't act) and the first stages of the European Community were treated with disdain as governments followed the chimera of a Commonwealth economic community.

To greatly generalize, he shows a group of British aristocrats, Churchill, Eden and Macmillan who were formed by, and reached power, within an unchanged imperially structured education and governmental system. Had the pre WW1 British empire still existed then maybe they could have completed the work they wished to do through a bureaucracy that was finely adapted to carry it out, but in the event the withdrawal of American financial and political support in the Suez crisis made the real position plain for the world to see.

Its fascinating to observe how 60 years later, Great Britain is still struggling with its imperial class system and the "Europe" question. ( )
1 vote Miro | Aug 10, 2010 |
Great mixture of history and personal experieces bringing alive the wonder of the 1950s ( )
1 vote shakespearesmonkey | Jul 27, 2007 |
Subtitle: Britain in the Fifties. Winner of the Orwell Prize for Political Writing 2007. Recommended. ( )
1 vote | Elishibai | Jun 10, 2007 |
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For Chelly Halsey, Richard Hoggart, the late Anthony Sampson and the late Michael Young with gratitude for making me think about the years encompassed herein.
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The author takes his readers into the front-rooms where the Coronation was watched on television, to the classrooms and new coffee bars of 1950s Britain - and also into the secret Cabinet rooms in which decisions about the British nuclear bomb were taken and plans made for the catastrophe of nuclear war.… (more)

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