10 books to help you understand the UK election results
Ten winning books that offer insight – in different ways – into contemporary Britain.
As pundits continue to parse the results of the British election, you might want to begin your own research. This list actually ranges all over the place – from the height of the British empire to England's 1970s punk rock scene to the multicultural mix that today defines the United Kingdom. It doesn't really matter – these are all winning books that make for excellent reading. And you may just come to glean something about the British electorate as you go.
1. "This Blessed Plot: Britain and Europe from Churchill to Blair," by Hugo Young. British journalist Hugo Young examines recent British history – which he sees as a downward trajectory, with the country moving from a leadership role as an imperial power to membership status in the European Union – using leaders from Churchill up through Blair as his focal points. You don't have to agree with Young to find him a perceptive and essential writer.
2. "Our Times: The Age of Elizabeth II," by A.N. Wilson. "Wilson’s book uses Elizabeth II’s years on the throne as a convenient window into the evolution of modern Britain, a period of change that the author finds breathtaking," writes Monitor reviewer Danny Heitman. "If, as Wilson asserts, the Great Britain of Elizabeth II’s youth no longer exists, then 'Our Times' ushers it out with a bang, not a whimper."
3. "Empire: The Rise and Demise of the British World Order and the Lessons for Global Power," by Niall Ferguson. Noted British historian Niall Ferguson offers a sweeping history of the British empire, which he views in a largely positive light as a civilizing force. (Today, he suggests, Britain's legacy lives on in the United States – a country that would do well to learn some lessons of history from the empire that spawned it.)
4. "A History of Britain, Volume III: The Fate of Empire, 1776 - 2000," by Simon Schama. This book is a huge chunk of an even more massive work, but acclaimed historian Simon Schama is a graceful and accessible author whose work offers a somewhat darker view of the British Empire that some readers view as a useful counterpoint to Niall Ferguson's "Empire."
5. "The Strange Death of Tory England," by Geoffrey Wheatcroft. Writing in the early years of this decade, British journalist Geoffrey Wheatcroft examines the changing fortunes of the British conservatives.
6. "England's Dreaming: Anarchy, Sex Pistols, Punk Rock, and Beyond," by Jon Savage. Well, okay, maybe this one won't really offer any direct insights into today's British election results but it does weave some politics into a very entertaining history of punk rock in the England of the 1970s.
7. "After the Victorians: The Decline of Britain in the World," by A.N. Wilson. In this sequel to his earlier book "The Victorians," Wilson takes a somewhat nostalgic look at what he considers to be the vanished Britain of his parents' generation. It is a world that some of today's voters repudiate – even as others view it as a golden age.
8. "Farewell the Trumpets: An Imperial Retreat," by James Morris. Former British Army guardsman Morris (now known as Jan Morris) takes an anecdotal approach to history in this last piece of her "Pax Britannica" trilogy. All three books are considered must-buys by many readers of British history, in part because of Morris's superb writing skills.
9. The Northern Clemency by Philip Hensher. This novel, which was a finalist for the Booker Prize, made a splash on this side of the Atlantic as well when it was named Amazon's 2008 "Best Book of the Year." Monitor reviewer Yvonne Zipp called it "a portrait of the changing face of northern England from the Thatcher era to the early days of Tony Blair" and noted that it "is so precisely rendered, one can easily imagine it becoming required reading for set designers everywhere."
10. England, Half English by Colin MacInnes. This 1961 collection of London-based essays by Australian writer Colin MacInnes may not be new, but it remains an interesting examination of Britain as a multicultural society.
Marjorie Kehe is the Monitor's book editor.