Reminding us that we've never had it so good

The Transformation of British Life 1950-2000
September 9, 2005

This is an accessible text, friendly for students and useful for history, politics and sociology courses, although it is lacking in searching questions. It is strong on some subjects; interesting on orthodoxies in decline, including monarchy, aristocracy, religion, marriage and trade unions; good on youth and age, new architecture (illustrated by photographs) and living in the American age; and there are welcome sections on food and transport.

But the book fails to tackle environmental and cultural issues adequately, and it is weak on the British dimension. Andrew Rosen appears uninterested in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and has insufficient to say about the English regions. As a consequence, instructive spatial variations in the shifts in social structures and attitudes he detects are partly neglected.

Rosen uncontroversially argues that two of the most important transformations in the period 1950-2000 were the growth of a far higher standard of living and the opening up of a wide array of individual freedoms.

The interaction of social and political history deserves far more attention, but possibly the generous typeface of this book simply makes it too short to cover the topic. Indeed, the work raises the question of how to define social history and how to write introductory works on it.

Given the prominent role of the state in British society, it is clear that history with the politics left out is not a successful approach to social history.

Margaret Thatcher turns up in this book to combat the trade unions, but a detailed account of her and other major politicians would be required were the book to provide a convincing survey of social history, and to help explain features such as the triumph of consumerism.

Jeremy Black is professor of history, Exeter University.

The Transformation of British Life 1950-2000: A Social History

Author - Andrew Rosen
Publisher - Manchester University Press
Pages - 211
Price - £42.50 and £9.99
ISBN - 0 7190 6611 5 and 6612 3

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