A History of Modern Britain

Reading Challenge book 1 – a book with more than 500 pages

A History of Modern Britain by Andrew Marr


Amazon link here

Hilariously, I keep referring to this book as a ‘Brief’ History of Modern Britain. Actually it was a very long read indeed – it took me about a month, which is about as long as I’ve spent reading any book – and there is a huge amount to take in.

The book covers the history of Britain, with a focus on politics, in the period from 1945 to 2007 (at least, in the paperback edition). My knowledge of this period before reading this book was, embarrassingly, pretty much nil as we didn’t study it at school, I didn’t read newspapers regularly through secondary school, and I hadn’t read around the subject. While I could have told you that there were strikes and blackouts in the 70s, that Britain’s success in the Falklands was a triumph for Margaret Thatcher, and that Blair was the leader of New Labour – that was pretty much it.

So reading this book was hugely valuable to me. When I finished it, I was able to list out all the post-war British prime ministers in chronological order, which was pretty cool – sadly, I haven’t retained that much detail a couple of months later. What I do have however is more context into the history behind current events, for example:

  • An appreciation of what was actually meant by ‘New Labour’ and more understanding of how the party’s shifting policies and politics have led to the in-party wrangling of Labour today.
  • More knowledge of Britain’s history in the Commonwealth, as the US’s junior partner, and historic relations with the EU,  which has given me some thinking points in advance of the EU referendum.
  • Some background into Britain’s nuclear history, amid Jeremy Corbyn’s calls for us not to renew Trident.

Attempting to analyse 50-odd years of history in less than 700 pages does not allow for an in-depth discussion of historical events. However, reading this book is a good way to familiarise with some of the key events in this period, and could well provide a starting point for further research into areas of interest for readers.

Throughout the history, Andrew Marr provides commentary on the politicians of the period and various policies, such as his thoughts as to why Clement Atlee and Margaret Thatcher  were the two genuinely nation-changing prime ministers of modern history. This is where I would advise caution: I could sense bias as I was reading (which is typical when reading opinion pieces), but my knowledge of the events wasn’t good enough to identify its direction. I definitely feel the need for further reading into this period, and would for something offering a different perspective for comparison.

To summarize, I would recommend this history for anyone who doesn’t know much about this period and wants to learn more. It is a slow, at times heavy read, though this could be ameliorated by reading it in sections (covering administrations or periods of history), rather than cover to cover.


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