Andrew Marr’s The Making of Modern Britain comes both after and before his History of Modern Britain (as he puts it in his introduction) since he wrote it later than the volume which dealt with the period after the end of the Second World War, but it covers the fifty years before – from the death of Queen Victoria up to that war.
Those were the first fifty years of my father’s life and I thought I knew all about them but I am constantly surprised by what I learn as I read sections of this superbly researched and beautifully written text. One message that comes across very clearly is that, unless you were one of the rich and a man, life was very hard indeed in the first decade of the century.
As we move through the sections towards appeasement and the second world conflagration, the lot of the working man slowly improves and figures like Churchill, Lloyd George, Mosley, Nye Bevin and Chamberlain fill out and become real personalities for the reader. So too, do some significant ladies, the Pankhursts, Marie Stopes, Marie Lloyd, the Mitfords and Wallis Simpson, for example – and how tough it was to be a woman!
There are just the right proportions of information and opinions (how the century might have been very different had Churchill followed a different course, for example) with welcome photographs to illustrate each aspect of the work. This is far more palatable than any of the history books I studied at university!