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Books Review Revelatory history of a disunited kingdom

Divided Kingdom: A History of Britain from 1900 to the Present
by Pat Thane
(Cambridge University Press, £22.99)

ONE gets the impression from the number of books recently published about the history of Britain over the past century that many are fairly superficial rehashes of earlier work.

Original significant texts are very much the exception and, while Divided Kingdom falls into neither of these camps, it’s still strongly recommended as a clear, useful and detailed introduction in addressing the themes of period.

Although the opening chapters are somewhat dry and list-like, as the book progresses and its key themes of division and conflict develop, it becomes transparent how careful and considered Thane’s analysis really is.

She is particularly adept at linking national change to international context and at uncovering the interrelationship between different forms of capitalist rule and the policies that were to flow from them.

Thane excels in explaining economic transformation and its impact on class composition and the patterns of political resistance that this sometimes gives rise to. The shift from a liberal, minimally interventionist state to the post-war social democratic consensus and then ultimately to the end of Keynesianism and the triumph of neoliberalism is particularly well drawn.

A real strength to the book is the author’s charting of social patterns such as levels of poverty, inequality and sex-based discrimination throughout the course of the century. Notes about the often ignored traveller community and of those with disabilities are a welcome inclusion.

Particularly to be appreciated is Thane’s understanding of the 1970s as a much more positive period than conventional narratives would have us believe, while the fluctuating fortunes of nationalism in Wales and Scotland and of republicanism in Ireland are also well covered.

Concluding with an in-depth reading list, it’s certainly a book for those approaching the subject for the first time and well worth dipping into if only by way of a refresher course.

A fantastic summary.

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