Student review: A History of Modern Britain: 1714 to the Present

February 25, 2010

Author: Ellis Wasson

Edition: First

Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell

Pages: 424

Price: £55.00 and £22.99

ISBN 9781405139359 and 9366

Scholars of modern British history are faced with an ever-expanding number of books. Even so, Ellis Wasson's A History of Modern Britain stands out as simple and effective. Wasson manages to discuss the complexities of the past three centuries with clarity, providing the reader with good coverage of the major events of a particular period while highlighting key debates. One of the strongest features of this book is a discussion of all of Britain's constituent parts. Rather than adopting a purely Anglocentric perspective, which Wasson himself suggests can be problematic in a multicultural age, he devotes energy to all of the countries that comprise Britain. He examines Wales and Scotland in terms of both their independent national cultures and their Britishness, laying the foundations for extended discussions of what it meant to be British.

The text takes the reader on a journey from Scotland's union with England in 1707, through the wars of the 18th century and the era of imperial commercialism, right up to the present day. Wasson's approach to politics is wide-ranging, looking beyond the major parties to incorporate socialism and the extreme Right. He also looks beyond the history of elites and discusses workers and women, artists, entertainers and sportsmen - all of whom contributed to a diverse British society. Cultural references and sources are used to highlight some of the key changes in British history, from imperial expansion and changing relations with America to industrialisation. In this account, the high culture of the poet William Wordsworth sits alongside the popular personified by the superstar footballer George Best.

As a starting point for a student, this book is extremely useful, drawing on key scholarly works as well as original analysis. It has many specific features that will benefit students, including a glossary of terms, chronologies of events and prime ministers and a genealogy of the British royal family. It has a clear, simple layout, which makes it easy to use, and Wasson's lucid writing style makes it accessible. A History of Modern Britain is a well-rounded and much-needed book that provides scholars of all levels of experience with something of value, whether it is a step on the path of understanding or a much-needed reference guide to the major events of modern British history.

Who is it for? Anyone with an interest in modern British history.

Presentation: Clear and easily accessible.

Would you recommend it? To those with no previous knowledge of the period and as a good reference point, particularly to first-year students.

Highly recommended

A History of Everyday Life in Twentieth Century Scotland

Editors: Lynn Abrams and Callum G. Brown

Edition: First

Publisher: Edinburgh University Press

Pages: 320

Price: £80.00 and £24.99

ISBN 9780748624300 and 4317

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