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Never Had It So Good: A History of Britain from Suez to the Beatles

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Arguing that historians have been besotted by the cultural revolution of the Sixties, Dominic Sandbrook re-examines the myths of this controversial period and paints a more complicated picture of a society caught between conservatism and change. He explores the growth of a modern consumer society, the impact of immigration, the invention of modern pop music, and the Britis Arguing that historians have been besotted by the cultural revolution of the Sixties, Dominic Sandbrook re-examines the myths of this controversial period and paints a more complicated picture of a society caught between conservatism and change. He explores the growth of a modern consumer society, the impact of immigration, the invention of modern pop music, and the British retreat from empire. He tells the story of the colourful characters of the period, like Harold Macmillan, Kingsley Amis, and Paul McCartney, and brings to life the experience of the first post-imperial generation, from the Notting Hill riots to the first Beatles hits, from the Profumo scandal to the cult of James Bond.


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Arguing that historians have been besotted by the cultural revolution of the Sixties, Dominic Sandbrook re-examines the myths of this controversial period and paints a more complicated picture of a society caught between conservatism and change. He explores the growth of a modern consumer society, the impact of immigration, the invention of modern pop music, and the Britis Arguing that historians have been besotted by the cultural revolution of the Sixties, Dominic Sandbrook re-examines the myths of this controversial period and paints a more complicated picture of a society caught between conservatism and change. He explores the growth of a modern consumer society, the impact of immigration, the invention of modern pop music, and the British retreat from empire. He tells the story of the colourful characters of the period, like Harold Macmillan, Kingsley Amis, and Paul McCartney, and brings to life the experience of the first post-imperial generation, from the Notting Hill riots to the first Beatles hits, from the Profumo scandal to the cult of James Bond.

30 review for Never Had It So Good: A History of Britain from Suez to the Beatles

  1. 4 out of 5

    Susan

    This book, the first of two giving a social and political history of Britain in the Sixties, has been on my radar for many years. When it finally appeared on kindle, I thought that I could ignore it no longer and decided to finally get around to reading it – I am glad that I did. Although this is the story of the Sixties, it begins in 1956 with the Suez crisis, and ends as the country heads into 1964. Dominic Sandbrook does a wonderful job of incorporating the cultural and the political. He pain This book, the first of two giving a social and political history of Britain in the Sixties, has been on my radar for many years. When it finally appeared on kindle, I thought that I could ignore it no longer and decided to finally get around to reading it – I am glad that I did. Although this is the story of the Sixties, it begins in 1956 with the Suez crisis, and ends as the country heads into 1964. Dominic Sandbrook does a wonderful job of incorporating the cultural and the political. He paints a picture of the country in those post war years, as rationing ended and there was a greater wealth and consumerism. With ITV competing with BBC and supermarkets challenging local shops, people had different choices which affected their everyday lives. However, this is still a society which clung to traditional views and politics. Even as Britain coped with its changed perception within the world, there is a longing for traditionalism and opposition to the influence of the US, especially on the young. The book begins with Macmillan seemingly safe as Prime Minister, but he is rocked by major events and scandal – particularly the Profumo affair has a real impact on his influence. Along with the Cold War, the threat of atomic war, the European Union, the changing Empire and immigration, satire was also an up and coming influence of public opinion. At the end of this book, we have Harold Wilson as the leader of the Labour Party and it is obvious that political change is coming – and welcomed by most. Along with major events, we have all the cultural events that were important during those years; from rock and roll to the literary scene, the ‘Angry Young Men’ of film and theatre, television and radio, the Cambridge Spies, James Bond, Harry Palmer, John le Carre and, of course, the Beatles. As we head into the early 1960’s, the huge impact of popular music still has to be felt. As late as 1962, there are those saying that Trad Jazz will be the dominant music of the Sixties, until Beatlemania burst onto the scene and into the charts. Of course, in 1964, the British Invasion will begin and London will suddenly swing into the Sixties proper. I look forward to reading the second book, “White Heat,” which begins where this finished. This is social history at its best – readable, enjoyable and full of interesting snippets and humour.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Antonomasia

    It wasn't until months after buying this and its sequel White Heat in autumn 2012 that I found out the author was a Tory; already slightly regretting the purchase of these huge tomes, I was even less keen after that but still wanted to read about the era in detail. Always alert for right-wing bias whilst reading the book, I was usually pleasantly surprised - for example Sandbrook's assessment of contentious issues like immigration, trade unions and the EEC was even-handed if not actually leaning It wasn't until months after buying this and its sequel White Heat in autumn 2012 that I found out the author was a Tory; already slightly regretting the purchase of these huge tomes, I was even less keen after that but still wanted to read about the era in detail. Always alert for right-wing bias whilst reading the book, I was usually pleasantly surprised - for example Sandbrook's assessment of contentious issues like immigration, trade unions and the EEC was even-handed if not actually leaning to the left and he presented many statistics and arguments in favour of them (at the time). He made Harold Macmillan incredibly likeable; I already knew of him as probably the most progressive Conservative PM we've ever had but knew little about him as a person. A few other biases were, however, present. Sandbrook evidently dislikes CND folkies, Tony Benn and perhaps most oddly and vehemently, the novelist Colin Macinnes. Macinnes comes in for much stick for being a posh class tourist and for exoticising and positive-stereotyping West Indian immigrants. (I read Macinnes' Absolute Beginners before finishing this book and what it seems to me to show is a stage in the evolution of attitudes: as well as an enduring crush on a white girl who mostly sleeps with black men, the late-teens narrator has genuine friendships with black and Jewish people; they are individual people to him, and he is prepared to be injured when standing up to racist thugs on their behalf. It's just that he can't stop mentioning his friends' races, which seems like a legacy of pre-Second World War essentialism.) Given some of Sandbrook's own mildly questionable vocab choices (though generally fair and liberal attitude) when discussing immigrant people, I'd guess that he borrowed the "exoticising" criticism from somewhere else as extra ammo against a writer he already disliked and whose work probably can't be ignored when discussing social change in late 50s and early 60s Britain. He also doesn't appear entirely comfortable with gay men; their legal and social situation gets a few pages within the section on spies, after the story of Burgess and Maclean (the chapter later devotes 20 pages to Ian Fleming's works alone) and, invariably referring to them as homosexuals, he reports media slurs of the day in a sort of free indirect style, sounding not so much academically detached as perhaps slightly in agreement. With big books, even when they have problems like that (or the excessively detailed chapter on the succession of Alec Douglas-Home) there can be so much right with them in the other 650-odd pages that without notes it's easy to forget the flaws. And this, generally, is readable and marvellously comprehensive. Often reading two pages made me feel as if I'd read at least ten, so dense is the information. When I knew subjects reasonably well - British New Wave films and pop music - he did seem a little obvious in presentation with one or two good bits missed out; still I always learned something I didn't already know, and you can't include absolutely everything, even in a book this size. Those chapters served as a barometer and I was confident that this was generally a very good and comprehensive overview of politics, culture and society of the time, albeit one focused on England rather than "Britain". Sandbrook's general take on the time is about continuity more than change: most people were "squares", and many trends had already appeared in the 1930s only to be interrupted by the war and rationing. I became very aware of reading a historian from the same generation as myself: all the same basic concepts are here which reflect what I was taught, most of which I still like to apply: everything is multifactorial and the product of numerous social, cultural and political currents; individuals can be very interesting but in the greater scheme of things they have relatively little power; there is the scrupulousness not to generalise too much without stats, especially when something is particularly novel; and a scepticism about being presented with big sweeping theories. Whilst it has some imperfections, this is a great summation of many of the features and preoccupations of the era including new consumer goods and materialism, trade unions, the old-school-tie Establishment, the satire boom, spies both real and fictional, increased homophobia, the rise of television, the Keeler affair, immigration from the Carribbean and the Indian subcontinent, the satire boom, rock n roll, trad jazz and the Beatles, well-paid working class youngsters, the decline of Empire and failure to keep up with Western Europe in modernising industry. And the post-war Butskellite consensus, which for those of us with social-democratic inclinations, seems like the best British party politics has ever been. A time when “Britain was being steered into decline by a group of complacent, snobbish, weary, anachronistic old men” at the same time as work and welfare were easy to find, and cultural and social change was chomping at the bit.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Geevee

    This was a great read that covered a wide range of subjects and areas within Mr Sandbrook's first period (1956-63) of his history that will run into the 1980s. The lead up and the eventual Suez crisis (debacle) sets the scene for a Britain that will begin to question its roots, establishment and direction. Mr Sandbrook covers taxes and the strength of Sterling to the prosperity and consumer boom with a growth in disposable income (for some sections and age groups) with a rise in membership of clu This was a great read that covered a wide range of subjects and areas within Mr Sandbrook's first period (1956-63) of his history that will run into the 1980s. The lead up and the eventual Suez crisis (debacle) sets the scene for a Britain that will begin to question its roots, establishment and direction. Mr Sandbrook covers taxes and the strength of Sterling to the prosperity and consumer boom with a growth in disposable income (for some sections and age groups) with a rise in membership of clubs, the increased prevalence of electricity leading to more refrigerators, TVs and car ownership and holidays. The author writes with great ease, quality and insight as he discusses literature of period including the unlikely friendship of Kingsley Amis and Philip Larkin, to milk and Expresso (sic) coffee bars; and the scandal of the Profumo affair and the spies and ministers of a wartime generation who acted and sounded differently to literary figures such as James Bond and George Smiley who challenged in outlook, popularity and approach. There are very readable chapters on youth culture including fashion & music linked to social change. Education, National Service and crime are covered, as is Sandbrook's well reasoned - and supported by this reader's - view that teenagers, rock & roll, records (45s & 33 LPs), TV, radio & magazines/music papers & of course Elvis changed the society... ...but yet it wasn't all as simple or as revolutionary as that, as for many pursuits such as angling and gardening were more popular than buying Beatles records; and across the country the sheer poverty, drudgery and greyness of post-war life in Britain for the majority was a far cry from Having it so Good. However, as we close with the end of 1963 the Beatles are atop the charts and a Labour Government is just around the corner, and it is clear to see the White Heat (Mr Sandbrook's title of the next volume and future PM Harold Wilson's famous words) of technology and science hanging in the wings for a nation on a great and seismic journey - and as a reader I'm enjoying the ride too.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Cora

    The first book about British politics that I read was Lynne Olson's TROUBLESOME YOUNG MEN, which conveyed strongly the sense of Great Britain was a country--at least in the 1930s--ruled by a few hundred people who all went to high school together. Class is just as important in America, to be sure, but America traditionally has been ruled by lots of smaller elite classes (wealthy New England merchants, South Carolina plantation owners, etc.) that never quite identified the same level of common id The first book about British politics that I read was Lynne Olson's TROUBLESOME YOUNG MEN, which conveyed strongly the sense of Great Britain was a country--at least in the 1930s--ruled by a few hundred people who all went to high school together. Class is just as important in America, to be sure, but America traditionally has been ruled by lots of smaller elite classes (wealthy New England merchants, South Carolina plantation owners, etc.) that never quite identified the same level of common identity. I had this thought a lot when reading NEVER HAD IT SO GOOD. Dominic Sandbrook's thesis emphasizes the essential conservatism of the era, to be sure, but Britain struck me as a notably conservative, stable place even by Western standards of the day. So, for example, Sandbrook gives the impression that the loss of empire was never quite as divisive as one might have expected. In France, the war in Algeria sparked a constitutional crisis, the downfall of the Fourth Republic, and an astonishing amount of political violence. In America, the (rather more tenuous) 'loss' of China prompted a scarring political debate that affected foreign policy for a generation. In Britain, it seems like opponents of decolonization couldn't even muster a serious leadership challenge in the Conservative Party. (The Suez crisis seems to me--and of course I could be wrong, since I'm a novice at British politics--as the exception that proves the rule; of course it ended in humiliation and the downfall of Anthony Eden, but the replacement of one center-right prime minister with another doesn't seem that dramatic to me all things considered.) The lack of a British equivalent to McCarthyism is pretty striking as well. It's remarkable to me that top officials in Whitehall and 10 Downing Street were able to simply decide not to air their own dirty laundry, and in that way keep a lid on serious controversy. Whether or not Harry Truman might have done that, the fact of the matter is that he could never have gotten away with it. And perhaps this is why the Cambridge spy ring never quite seemed to be as big a scandal as it deserved to be. Certainly, there seems to have been a general suspicion of 'the Establishment' at that era, and newspapers would print stories about how many British leaders were descended from only four Victorian peers. And I would have imagined that the Profumo scandal, which was both lurid and at least ostensibly connected to national security, would have proved the natural segue. Kim Philby's career seems particularly damning, since he was not only responsible for the deaths of British assets, not only permitted to escape justice entirely by fleeing to Moscow, he was publicly exonerated in Parliament by the sitting Prime Minister.* Surely, this--not the weird sex habits of the upperclass, which couldn't have been that surprising--was the real scandal of the era. But as late as 1963, Harold MacMillan was able to go to Harold Wilson and get the Labour leader to agree to play down the scandal for 'national security.' I found that really remarkable. *(I'm not saying that MacMillan necessarily did anything wrong; I have no idea, and would love to know more. But it seems like it should have been a big deal.) Other things that jumped out at me: - The association between Italian food and impossible sophistication is something that I enjoyed every time it came up. - I thought it was crazy that nearly half of British homes lacked a bathroom in 1950, but I just looked it up and it was something like 35% lacking bathrooms in America at the same time; I suppose this is a part of the recent past that people just don't think much about. - So the British New Wave is basically the Four Yorkshiremen sketch on Monty Python played straight, right? - There's a lot in the book about fears by cultural elites of Americanization of British pop culture (particularly w/r/t rock music, television, and horror comics). What's striking to me is that--aside from the trope that American culture is corrupting Great Britain--their arguments are otherwise exactly the same as those made by American cultural elites. - John Lennon was a real prick. I suppose I might say this again in my review of the next volume in the series, but seriously, what a prick. I was generally impressed with Dominic Sandbrook's ability to deliver a pretty complicated historical narrative (including political, social and cultural history) in a way that's engaging and clear even to somebody without a strong background in the subject. I really enjoy British history--I was joking to a friend that it's as interesting as American history but I don't have to feel responsible for any of it--so I am excited to read the rest of the series.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Michael Sterckx

    I was worried that this was going to be an historical justification for Thatcherism, but Mr Sandbrook managed to keep his political opinions mostly at bay. His dismissing of British New Wave kitchen sink cinema was unfair though and he conveniently overlooked key films such as A Taste Of Honey which countered his argument that they were largely working class, chauvinistic and small c conservative in outlook. The chapter on Profumo was interesting, as he seemed to be trying to deflect the sleaze I was worried that this was going to be an historical justification for Thatcherism, but Mr Sandbrook managed to keep his political opinions mostly at bay. His dismissing of British New Wave kitchen sink cinema was unfair though and he conveniently overlooked key films such as A Taste Of Honey which countered his argument that they were largely working class, chauvinistic and small c conservative in outlook. The chapter on Profumo was interesting, as he seemed to be trying to deflect the sleaze away from the Conservative party and onto the press and he was also rather snobbish about Christine Keeler as well. His argument that the sixties didn't just come out of nowhere but was the culmination of four decades of modernistic progress is absolutely solid however.

  6. 4 out of 5

    F.R.

    The first part of Dominic Sandbrook’s history of Britain in the 1960s actually covers 1956-1963. Of course historians these days rarely have a literal view of the calendar (inevitably, we can expect histories of The Noughties to begin on September the 11th, 2001) and given the effect The Suez Crisis had on British prestige, it seems sensible to begin there. Even so there’s a lot of context which needs to be built in, and for the early part of the book George Orwell – who died in 1950 – is one of The first part of Dominic Sandbrook’s history of Britain in the 1960s actually covers 1956-1963. Of course historians these days rarely have a literal view of the calendar (inevitably, we can expect histories of The Noughties to begin on September the 11th, 2001) and given the effect The Suez Crisis had on British prestige, it seems sensible to begin there. Even so there’s a lot of context which needs to be built in, and for the early part of the book George Orwell – who died in 1950 – is one of the most quoted commentators. Sandbrook looks at the decade both politically and culturally, and the chapters pretty much split between the two. On the whole I think the political chapters are better value, just because there are more interesting points to unearth there. After all, if you’re writing about the origins of The Beatles, James Bond, or even Dr Who – as important as they were – there’s not much more fresh you can say about them. I’m not alone in knowing more about Decca’s assertion that guitar bands were finished or the hiring of Sean Connery, than I do about the Conservative party intrigues which saw Sir Alec Douglas Home become Prime Minister. The various areas you’d expect to be covered are: angry young men, kitchen sink dramas, the dissolution of The Empire, the third man and Profumo, and the author does a wonderful job in bringing them to life. However many of the commentators are politicians or well known personalities, with a handful of ‘ordinary people’ sprinkled through the text. Although these voices are there, I’m not sure they’re used as skilfully as they are in David Kynaston’s similar ‘Austerity Britain’. (The follow up ‘Family Britain’ is on the shelves now and I’m looking forward to it). However ‘Never Had It So Good’ is a lively piece of history, which puts forward the convincing argument that as much as things seemed to change, Britain remained an incredibly conservative country. No matter what the TV footage shows of Carnaby Street, that was not the experience of the majority of the nation. ‘White Heat’ is the second volume and I will certainly read it soon. Two anecdotes of this book which particularly made me smile: Firstly, in 1962 as worries about teenagers spread “the London Union of Youth Clubs, ‘seeking to mould the citizens of tomorrow’, sent a hundred teenage girls on an ‘initiative test’ to spend the night at sea on a ship full of sailors. The point of this exercise was never entirely clear, but it takes little imagination to speculate that the evening did not unfold quite as the youth service would have wished.” Secondly, at the start of the sixties, as the original rock’n’rollers were tamed – for Britain, we’re talking Cliff Richard and Tommy Steele – many commentators were convinced that the dominant musical style of the 1960s would be Trad Jazz, and that its proponents would be the stars of the decade. And then along came John, Paul, George and Ringo.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Stephanie Patterson

    I LOVED this book! I felt as if I was living through everything described. Mr. Sandbrook works very hard to leave no literary or cultural stone unturned.This work of history covers Britain from the Suez Crisis to Dr. Who. It's Sandbrook's ability to interweave all these strands in very readable prose that is so amazing. He covers the administrations of Anthony Eden and Harold MacMillan. He talks about "The Angry Young Men" both on stage and in literature and gives an interesting account of why J I LOVED this book! I felt as if I was living through everything described. Mr. Sandbrook works very hard to leave no literary or cultural stone unturned.This work of history covers Britain from the Suez Crisis to Dr. Who. It's Sandbrook's ability to interweave all these strands in very readable prose that is so amazing. He covers the administrations of Anthony Eden and Harold MacMillan. He talks about "The Angry Young Men" both on stage and in literature and gives an interesting account of why James Bond was so popular and so necessary to the British sense of self. He paints a fairly unattractive portrait of David Frost and discusses the origins of Dr. Who. The great scandals of the day (John Profumo, the defection of Kim Philby) are also described. I'm conscious that I'm just listing things here, but it is really difficult to convey the richness of the book without producing a much longer review. If you're interested in contemporary British history, this is a great place to start.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Bevan Lewis

    The first of Sandbrook's 'post-war' series, this is well researched, full of detail and covers a diverse array of material. It escapes the fixation of many history books with politics (I had to wait a long time for an account of the Profumo Affair) although gives creditable coverage. The sections on culture and social history are interesting and the book is a better read for the fact that it has a mild thesis running through it (that of challenging the belief that changes in social attitudes and The first of Sandbrook's 'post-war' series, this is well researched, full of detail and covers a diverse array of material. It escapes the fixation of many history books with politics (I had to wait a long time for an account of the Profumo Affair) although gives creditable coverage. The sections on culture and social history are interesting and the book is a better read for the fact that it has a mild thesis running through it (that of challenging the belief that changes in social attitudes and quality of life were powerful themes in the period).

  9. 4 out of 5

    Lauren Albert

    I was worried when I started this book--more than 700 pages on such a short period of time. I'm used to massive histories--but not usually on such a small period of time. But Sandbrook did an excellent job. I criticized a book I read recently for the strange way it jumped from cultural to political and back. Sandbrook manages to show the entanglement of the two in a much more vivid way. I was worried when I started this book--more than 700 pages on such a short period of time. I'm used to massive histories--but not usually on such a small period of time. But Sandbrook did an excellent job. I criticized a book I read recently for the strange way it jumped from cultural to political and back. Sandbrook manages to show the entanglement of the two in a much more vivid way.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Reza Amiri Praramadhan

    Sixties was, indeed, one of the transformative times of world’s history. Britain too, were also caught in this tumultuous period. This author of this book, while discussing Britain’s history during the sixties, found it quite appropriate to start his narration with The Suez debacle, the moment when British Imperialism was finally handed its final nail on its coffin. The subsequent Conservative administration under Harold MacMillan, the nervous, cuckolded, yet blessed with supreme oratorical abil Sixties was, indeed, one of the transformative times of world’s history. Britain too, were also caught in this tumultuous period. This author of this book, while discussing Britain’s history during the sixties, found it quite appropriate to start his narration with The Suez debacle, the moment when British Imperialism was finally handed its final nail on its coffin. The subsequent Conservative administration under Harold MacMillan, the nervous, cuckolded, yet blessed with supreme oratorical ability and utter ruthlessness when it comes to clinging to power, presided over the boom of British economy, with consumerism galore, which unfortunately was built under irresponsible inflation, caving in to labour unions, and ultimately squandered Britain’s comparative advantages over its war-devastated, neighboring countries. The author also asserts, the most interesting statement in my opinion, despite numerous and revolutionary social, cultural and economical changes, British society was, ultimately, still a relatively conservative society. While the backstabbing politics under MacMillan’s administration remained the main attraction, other interesting social cultural aspects of Britain’s early sixties were also discussed, things like James Bond, that ultimate expression of British Jingoism and men’s escapism, the rise of television, The Beatles, rock ‘n roll and other sorts of counterculture, the supposed sexual decadency of the ruling class, which was best illustrated by the Profumo Affair, all were discussed in great detail, although many escaped my interest. The book ended with the ascension of Alec Douglas-Home, a figure that ticks my interest, for he was the last Lord who served as Prime Minister of Great Britain, an intrigue that showed how rotten and corrupt the old boy system of Conservative Party at the time, with once again, much tired and plagued with illness MacMillan played his hand superbly. The choice of Lord Home as leader, showed how unprepared the Tories were to let go its old image in face of modern professionalism, a fact that Labour’s Harold Wilson, with its ‘white heat’ of technology as slogans quick to pounce upon. I expected nothing less from the sequel of this book.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Nordicadventurer

    Really enjoyed the first in the series of post war British history from Dominic Sandbrook, covering years 1956-63. I studied modern European history and politics at university but British Political History was taught in such a tediously dull manner, that I remember very little. I was a bit apprehensive at re-visiting the topic twenty years later and I worried at first that the length of the book at 900+ pages would be an un-necessary dragging out of eight years of history. However, Sandbrook's l Really enjoyed the first in the series of post war British history from Dominic Sandbrook, covering years 1956-63. I studied modern European history and politics at university but British Political History was taught in such a tediously dull manner, that I remember very little. I was a bit apprehensive at re-visiting the topic twenty years later and I worried at first that the length of the book at 900+ pages would be an un-necessary dragging out of eight years of history. However, Sandbrook's lively writing style and well selected anecdotes meant that my interest was rarely lost, and I learned a lot of interesting facts that become talking points among friends and led to some nostalgic conversations with my mother, who was a child during this time period. The mixing of political history with art, culture and social commentary on the period really helped me to get a feeling for what it was like to live in this era, and also how it has shaped the Britain we have today. It felt like an achievement to finish this weighty volume, but it was not at all laborious to read. Now I'm really looking forward to the next in the series!

  12. 4 out of 5

    Craig Werner

    I read this after White Heat, the second volume of Sandbrook's history of post-war Britain. I say that because I found White Heat irritating both in methodology and perspective, so I was ready to have an equally negative reaction to Never Had It So Good. In the event, I found it a much better book, less reliant on tabloid-style newspaper sources and less opinionated (though Sandbrook certainly doesn't hold back and his comments are often acerbically funny). I suspect it's because he's less parti I read this after White Heat, the second volume of Sandbrook's history of post-war Britain. I say that because I found White Heat irritating both in methodology and perspective, so I was ready to have an equally negative reaction to Never Had It So Good. In the event, I found it a much better book, less reliant on tabloid-style newspaper sources and less opinionated (though Sandbrook certainly doesn't hold back and his comments are often acerbically funny). I suspect it's because he's less partisan about the early stages of the pop culture and that there's simply less internal personal drama in the slow collapse of the Macmillan government in comparison with the ongoing soap opera of Harold Wilson's years in office. Both volumes contain a lot of pure information, which is why I read them.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Jonny

    Although this is too long (at times the chapters on cultural history feel like the author simply wrote down everything he extracted from a primary source), it’s still a very well-knitted together history of the period. In practice, the book builds in enough context from the immediate post-WWII period to explain the psychology around Suez and the initial application to join the EEC, and makes sense of how domestic politics unfolded during the period. It’s probably at its strongest in drawing out Although this is too long (at times the chapters on cultural history feel like the author simply wrote down everything he extracted from a primary source), it’s still a very well-knitted together history of the period. In practice, the book builds in enough context from the immediate post-WWII period to explain the psychology around Suez and the initial application to join the EEC, and makes sense of how domestic politics unfolded during the period. It’s probably at its strongest in drawing out the confusion inherent between a society becoming richer and more tolerant while still being fundamentally conservative. I’m not sure if I’ll make it through the subsequent books covering the rest of the ‘60s and ‘70s, but this works well as a stand-alone history.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Lysergius

    A thoroughly entertaining book. Having grown up in the period described in the book, From Suez to The Beatles, and having read quite a number of varied histories of the period I thought I was well up on it. I have to say that Dominic Sandbrook has shattered that illusion completely. This is another slant on the period, much more objective, not at all jaundiced or emphatic, quite balanced. The book contains a wealth of detail on each of the episodes in describes, which together make up a very det A thoroughly entertaining book. Having grown up in the period described in the book, From Suez to The Beatles, and having read quite a number of varied histories of the period I thought I was well up on it. I have to say that Dominic Sandbrook has shattered that illusion completely. This is another slant on the period, much more objective, not at all jaundiced or emphatic, quite balanced. The book contains a wealth of detail on each of the episodes in describes, which together make up a very detailed and comprehensive picture of the events, the timescales, the locales and the personalities involved. The Profumo affair, with which I thought I was au fait, is addressed and explained in an extremely clearly, managing to get the whole thing into its proper perspective and clarifies the effect of the media and the sensationalist headlines of the time. Similarly Sandbrook is able to look quite coolly at the music of the period culminating in The Beatles and remove a lot of the mystique, which does help one to take a longer view in a clearer historical perspective, by pointing out for example that gardening as a pastime was much more popular that listening to The Beatles! In short this is a thoroughly enjoyable, well written, detailed and picturesque overview of an interesting period in the history of the UK pre-Brexit and I cannot wait to start the second volume in the series...

  15. 4 out of 5

    Xander Ring

    As an American who has been visiting the UK for almost 30 years this book explained a lot to me. How did Britain start to imitate and resemble the U.S.? When did it become such a consumer society? Why is it so different from other European countries? Never Had it So Good tells the tale and lays the groundwork for the decades to come. The minutiae of everyday life in Britain during this period is examined with humor and insight. History just as I like it. There are three more books in this histor As an American who has been visiting the UK for almost 30 years this book explained a lot to me. How did Britain start to imitate and resemble the U.S.? When did it become such a consumer society? Why is it so different from other European countries? Never Had it So Good tells the tale and lays the groundwork for the decades to come. The minutiae of everyday life in Britain during this period is examined with humor and insight. History just as I like it. There are three more books in this historical series and I am going to savor each and every one of them.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    excellent read, very informative on the period of Britain the book covers. A mix of politics and culture of the times. Sandbrooks books are never a dull affair

  17. 4 out of 5

    Margarita Morris

    A superbly detailed account of the years 1956 to 1963/4 covering British politics, culture, literature, film, music and social change. Highly informative and written in a fluent, compelling style.

  18. 5 out of 5

    James

    I was once recommended Sandbrook's TV series so his detailed history of Britain from 1956-1963 was a start that required much more of a commitment. As my knowledge of Britain between 1945 and Thatcher is fairly sparse, he could have told me that Anthony Eden was the greatest ever PM and I'd have had to take him at his word, but it certainly appeared to be well-researched, and despite its heft it was never a drag to read. Sandbrook starts and ends on the political events and asserts his own opinio I was once recommended Sandbrook's TV series so his detailed history of Britain from 1956-1963 was a start that required much more of a commitment. As my knowledge of Britain between 1945 and Thatcher is fairly sparse, he could have told me that Anthony Eden was the greatest ever PM and I'd have had to take him at his word, but it certainly appeared to be well-researched, and despite its heft it was never a drag to read. Sandbrook starts and ends on the political events and asserts his own opinions of the political figures' effectiveness while describing the events and the more debatable accounts, but he also puts the machinations in the context of society at the time. To be quite honest, it's not clear what made MacMillan or Enoch Powell Tories from these accounts, presented as liberals quite happy to spend taxes on welfare and investment, perhaps this was the political mood at the time or their social liberalism (or not) just wasn't touched on enough given Powell's later infamy. Sandbrook also discussed the cultural phenomena, and the chapters tended to alternate between the political and societal, and then what was popular in the arts. I was never quite sure whether the New Wave phenomenon was merely literary or popular, as the only sales figures seemed to be for the Bond books and similar spy novels, but the discussion was nevertheless interesting and has provided a number of books to put on my to-read list. Other subjects that were broached included the popularity of newspapers and the cries about people watching TV rather than talking to each other - this was written before the smartphone era, and therefore there were no deliberate parallels with smartphones ruining the communal experience of TV - it appeared that previously sympathetic liberals were disappointed that the authentic, real working class was quite happy to watch Coronation Street when given the chance. One of the key themes was the change in material wealth or consumption, which appeared significant, and the availability of cheaper records, books and televisions contributing to the cultural changes associated with the 60s. But the author argued that there majority of the young were fairly sensible and apolitical, and that they were not quite the revolutionaries that is a popular perception. He believed a lot of this is down to people in select circles forgetting the bigger picture, but he did back up his opinions with supporting evidence. And while the subject matter was good, the style was easy to follow and moved on quickly enough. A lot of the names were completely new to me but I rarely felt lost, and only in the section on New Wave novels did I feel that Sandbrook was staying on one subject for too long, as this weariness was never repeated on my part. Nor was this one of those books that is ultimately rewarding but needs an effort to continue reading, as I spent about 7 hours of a wet Sunday on about a third of this, and this did require a considerable amount of time to read, even allowing for diversions to search for certain music artists on Youtube. This is only the first of two volumes, and perhaps topics like industry, sport and works of art will be included in the second - although he mentioned the economic growth, it was unclear where that growth was really coming from, as it was mainly consumer spending that was analysed here. I suspect that Sandbrook is on the conservative side but this is not a noticeably partisan book, and the economic management of the Tories is criticised, along with aspects of their foreign policy. His economic arguments contrast with those of Piketty, say, whose belief is that countries other than UK and USA were merely catching up, and there are few economic pieces of data to back up Sandbrook's claims, as he only really uses countries largely affected by WWII in his figures. Yet largely his arguments stack up, and I was fully engaged for the majority of this. I will probably give it a break for now but I will be looking out for his later books in his history of Britain.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Jerry Smith

    This the second of the 4 Sandbrook tomes that I have read on the subject of UK history from the Suez Crisis up to 1979. Strangely the first one I tackled was "Seasons in the Sun" which covered the most recent period in that timeline so I thought I should go back and take the remaining 3 in order. They are definitely a canon of work as far as I can tell, one leading into the next and all apparently written in the same style. In this book, he references some aspects of social history that he will c This the second of the 4 Sandbrook tomes that I have read on the subject of UK history from the Suez Crisis up to 1979. Strangely the first one I tackled was "Seasons in the Sun" which covered the most recent period in that timeline so I thought I should go back and take the remaining 3 in order. They are definitely a canon of work as far as I can tell, one leading into the next and all apparently written in the same style. In this book, he references some aspects of social history that he will cover in detail in subsequent volumes and this is sensible. Certainly these books can all be read as standalone offerings, since they are structured in two ways: chronologically and by subject. Therefore we are treated to cultural issues, political, world events and societal changes by chapter, although basically all in chronological order although there is some overlap. This approach works very well as Sandbrook's style is highly detailed, broad and deep. This book itself runs to over 700 pages of small typeface and they are all of similar length. This is why dividing them into 4-5 year periods is essential - I can't really imagine tackling a 3000 page book in one go, as well written as they are. They certainly are well penned too and as a result, highly readable. The detail is the strength of these works and, if you have lived through any of these times as many who read this will have, memories are certainly jogged. The time frame of this particular work was just before my time but the character sketches of Macmillan and Eden in particular, were fascinating. In this book, as opposed to "Seasons in the Sun" I found the author's views creeping into the history rather more than I remember. There are insertions such as "...and deservedly so" when referencing artistic works and "...not without justification" when referring to opinions given by third parties on politicians of the day. These are not too overt and, of course, the author always has the right to such assertions. However, I don't remember them as up front in the later book although I may just have not noticed them. This makes the book perhaps more conversational and readable but I wonder if it is necessary in a history book. More worrying perhaps are some statements that sound rather like assertions without evidence that have crept into the text. I can't out my finger on specific examples and again, the detail that is present suggests such statements do have a factual basis, but still. Nor am I arguing for more details as these books are quite lengthy enough as is! These are minor points. This is a very enjoyable history of Britain as it changed post WW2 and as the country unwound it's empire. The resultant uncertainty of the national psyche, and the zeitgeist on the "affluent society" resonates to this day. History may not repeat but it certainly does echo. I see much from the 50's that still impacts British thought today (I am a Brit living in the US) with the wrangling over Brexit etc. The seeds of the UK's downfall as a world power were certainly there in the 50s and today, the country is a largely impotent island anchored off the Europe it has spurned as it tries to pretend it is still relevant on the world stage. It is all rather pathetic. Little Englanders yearning for greatness and the return of empire, much of which was a sad story of imperial hubris and suppression anyway. It saddens me, and one can see where that began in these pages. Well worth a read and I look forward to reading the next two in due course.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Thomas Smith

    This is a bloody long book and a slog to get through at times. It's over 700 pages and the text is quite small, and some of the content is dry at times. Those are the negatives of the book, but they are definitely outweighed by the positives. Firstly, this book is written in a refreshingly informal and jovial style, where you feel the enjoyment of the author coming through in how he describes things. His clear fascination with post-war Britain is so apparent, and it really makes the book more en This is a bloody long book and a slog to get through at times. It's over 700 pages and the text is quite small, and some of the content is dry at times. Those are the negatives of the book, but they are definitely outweighed by the positives. Firstly, this book is written in a refreshingly informal and jovial style, where you feel the enjoyment of the author coming through in how he describes things. His clear fascination with post-war Britain is so apparent, and it really makes the book more enjoyable. Secondly, the level of research in this book is also brilliant, no stone is left unturned and the list of references is ridiculously plentiful. The author covers the whole spectrum of the period: ordinary life, politics, news, and popular culture. You really get a clear feeling of what Britain was like in this period. The authors main argument is that no majorly drastic changes happened in these years and that the changes that did happen were simply a continuation of changes that had been happening since the 1930s and before. Would highly recommend to anyone who wants to understand the way Britain came to be the way it is.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Ian Mapp

    Takes a lot to keep a reader entertained over 740 pages of Social and Political history. Dominic Sandbrook does it with ease. We cover the fast changing world of the lates fifties through to the Profumo Affair and the close of 1963. If you are watching the Crown, we are talking S2. And the writers of the Crown have either used this book or the same reference material, as there are many parallels with this series - starting at Suez & ending with Macmillan resigning. Its a super fast moving time per Takes a lot to keep a reader entertained over 740 pages of Social and Political history. Dominic Sandbrook does it with ease. We cover the fast changing world of the lates fifties through to the Profumo Affair and the close of 1963. If you are watching the Crown, we are talking S2. And the writers of the Crown have either used this book or the same reference material, as there are many parallels with this series - starting at Suez & ending with Macmillan resigning. Its a super fast moving time period for everything from class, to sex, to technology, to leisure time and Sandbrook documents it well, jumping between politics and culture effortlessly. Much attention to detail and if you make notes, you come out of it with tonnes of references for further exploration. I shall be forever grateful for the book for pointing out Hancocks Half Hour. I've watched S6 and its timeless, standing up to any classic comedies. Will move onto White Heat that documents the rest of the sixties. Might wait until S3 of the Crown.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Alex Watson

    The central idea - that the 60s were not a radical disruption of what came before, but much more of a continuation - is interesting and well argued. It’s also interesting to see political action so well situated with cultural events (and vice versa). But despite an interest in reframing history, this extends more to the narrative than the characters or the attitudes: it still mostly focusses on people you’ve heard about before (in a way the entire book is viewed through the prism of Macmillan) a The central idea - that the 60s were not a radical disruption of what came before, but much more of a continuation - is interesting and well argued. It’s also interesting to see political action so well situated with cultural events (and vice versa). But despite an interest in reframing history, this extends more to the narrative than the characters or the attitudes: it still mostly focusses on people you’ve heard about before (in a way the entire book is viewed through the prism of Macmillan) and it doesn’t work hard enough to expand the scope of what’s covered. There are some nods to a more social history based approach but it’s still basically the “great man” theory. It’s not that comfortable with a wider vision of history, and tilts into misogyny when talking about Christine Keeler. For all the author’s dislike of CND and “folkies” as inauthentic middle class tourists, a more authentic panoply of voices is lacking from the book as a whole that claims to be a history of a whole country and a whole age.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Adrian Turner

    Genuinely excellent in-depth review of Britain from the early-50s to the early-60s, a period which tends to get overlooked between the more celebrated eras of WW2 and the "swinging sixties." The author tells us he'd originally meant to cover a longer period, but the book became too big, so he's narrowed his focus accordingly. Even so, I'd argue that this chunky tome might be too much for the casual reader (including myself!), though Sandbrook has an endearing lightness of touch in his writing (i Genuinely excellent in-depth review of Britain from the early-50s to the early-60s, a period which tends to get overlooked between the more celebrated eras of WW2 and the "swinging sixties." The author tells us he'd originally meant to cover a longer period, but the book became too big, so he's narrowed his focus accordingly. Even so, I'd argue that this chunky tome might be too much for the casual reader (including myself!), though Sandbrook has an endearing lightness of touch in his writing (including the best and clearest summary of the Suez crisis I've read), and does a good job of alternating between some of the drier political stories, and the parallel pop-cultural aspects of the time. It's also worth mentioning that this is very much a *British* history (the clue's in the title), with minimal reference to contemporary world events, and even then only when those events directly affect Britain itself. Highly recommended.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Graham

    Dominic Sandbrook's exhausting and exhaustive exploration of British social history between 1956 and 1963 really is as comprehensive as you could ask for; he leaves very few stones unturned in his tale of politics, music, film, literature, technology, spies, scandals, world events and the dying days of Empire. It's a well-chosen period and the author brings it alive on every densely-written and informative page, seemingly covering in extensive yet entertaining detail all of the things that were Dominic Sandbrook's exhausting and exhaustive exploration of British social history between 1956 and 1963 really is as comprehensive as you could ask for; he leaves very few stones unturned in his tale of politics, music, film, literature, technology, spies, scandals, world events and the dying days of Empire. It's a well-chosen period and the author brings it alive on every densely-written and informative page, seemingly covering in extensive yet entertaining detail all of the things that were going on in our country. As I wasn't even born for another 20 years I found it all fascinating; I knew a lot of political background from reading Andrew Marr's also extensive history of Britain in the 20th century, but the cultural stuff was consistently fascinating and Sandbrook goes into way more detail here. I enjoyed it so much that I eagerly await the second instalment, WHITE HEAT.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Kathie

    It took me about a year to read this book, which I read slowly and methodically, usually at bedtime. This was the perfect type of book retreat to in the year 2020. This book was interesting, in that it covered the time span that shaped my childhood even though I’m American. I learned a lot about the years of post war austerity and the continuing loss of a great empire. Finally found out what the Profumo affair was about. I enjoyed the chapters about James Bond/Ian Fleming and the Beatles, dispell It took me about a year to read this book, which I read slowly and methodically, usually at bedtime. This was the perfect type of book retreat to in the year 2020. This book was interesting, in that it covered the time span that shaped my childhood even though I’m American. I learned a lot about the years of post war austerity and the continuing loss of a great empire. Finally found out what the Profumo affair was about. I enjoyed the chapters about James Bond/Ian Fleming and the Beatles, dispelling some the the myths about them. It ends at the beginning of 1964, which is the beginning of huge changes to come. It occurs to me that watchers of The Crown will find many questions answered if they read this book. But it is really long.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Dave

    Great read, couldn’t really put it down. Looked forward to my next reading session with gusto. Lots of controversial issues have been explored from a different perspective and make for rewarding reading. Most of the topics in the book covered historical events which I had or thought I had, a good knowledge of. Sandbrook presents new, fact based alternatives to some well worn British cliches of Labour, immigration, neo liberal capitalism and the cultural mores of the 60s. A novel refreshing look Great read, couldn’t really put it down. Looked forward to my next reading session with gusto. Lots of controversial issues have been explored from a different perspective and make for rewarding reading. Most of the topics in the book covered historical events which I had or thought I had, a good knowledge of. Sandbrook presents new, fact based alternatives to some well worn British cliches of Labour, immigration, neo liberal capitalism and the cultural mores of the 60s. A novel refreshing look at historically well discussed events and opinions with added details from a modern perspective. Looking round for part 2 to read, which I’m now aware is the sequel to this publication.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Hamish Gibb

    An excellent work covering 1956 to 1963. It is not for the faint hearted however as it runs to well over 700 pages. However the detailed analyses of The Suez crisis, the Profumo affair, shifts in culture and purchasing power to the arrival of the Beatles amongst a much longer list of topics generates an engagement with the masses of this period. Whether I will read the other 4/5 in the series is open to discussion. As I have lived through the periods covered, I shall probably concentrate on thos An excellent work covering 1956 to 1963. It is not for the faint hearted however as it runs to well over 700 pages. However the detailed analyses of The Suez crisis, the Profumo affair, shifts in culture and purchasing power to the arrival of the Beatles amongst a much longer list of topics generates an engagement with the masses of this period. Whether I will read the other 4/5 in the series is open to discussion. As I have lived through the periods covered, I shall probably concentrate on those periods of history which I know much less about. This should not deter others at all as the book is extremely well written and entertaining but above all most informative indeed.

  28. 4 out of 5

    johanna ☆

    It feels dirty giving this a high rating when Sandbrook spends half his time now writing delirious columns for the Daily Mail but this is unarguably a well-written and enormously detailed account of the period. I certainly wouldn't take its line of argument as gospel, but as a work of popular history seeking to chronicle and interrogate the great political events, social changes and cultural phenomena of the 60s, it does exactly what it says on the tin. It feels dirty giving this a high rating when Sandbrook spends half his time now writing delirious columns for the Daily Mail but this is unarguably a well-written and enormously detailed account of the period. I certainly wouldn't take its line of argument as gospel, but as a work of popular history seeking to chronicle and interrogate the great political events, social changes and cultural phenomena of the 60s, it does exactly what it says on the tin.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Bryan Wigmore

    It's very rare for my "main" book to take me a month to read. This was often fascinating, but very long, and at times felt a slog. But definitely worth it for the way it deepened my understanding of topics such as Suez and the Profumo affair just enough for my level of interest, in a fairly compact package. Sandbrook's writing, as always, is easy to read and often very witty. It's very rare for my "main" book to take me a month to read. This was often fascinating, but very long, and at times felt a slog. But definitely worth it for the way it deepened my understanding of topics such as Suez and the Profumo affair just enough for my level of interest, in a fairly compact package. Sandbrook's writing, as always, is easy to read and often very witty.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Mickey McIntosh

    Part one in a four part series of the history of Britain from the mid 50's to the late 70's. Everything is covered; music, politics, films, fashion, social issues, and one and one. Fantastic look at postwar Britain as the country struggled to become a world power again, and face changing times. Any history buff, or any fan of cultural studies of life after the second world war should read this. Part one in a four part series of the history of Britain from the mid 50's to the late 70's. Everything is covered; music, politics, films, fashion, social issues, and one and one. Fantastic look at postwar Britain as the country struggled to become a world power again, and face changing times. Any history buff, or any fan of cultural studies of life after the second world war should read this.

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