Saturday, July 28, 2007

A two star review of 'Hope and Glory Britain 1900-2000' by Peter Clarke

Another of the stupid IT things which annoys me is Amazon book reviews. Blaglady introduced me to this hobby a few years ago. But unfortunately for them I give them detailed, negative reviews and those ones they don't publish which really gets on my nerves. But now, this is critical. One of the things about studying & writing is that you have to try and write every day. So you can get feedback, improve your style, find your niche, get confidence, improve spelling and so on. So I'm going to start publishing my negative reviews on my blog. This will also help with my MA, where summarising books is a good skill to have, obviously especially if they're relevant.

So here goes:

Yes, the Spectator and the Telegraph rave about this book, but for most of us, who have to read it anyway as it's a core text on a reading list, we struggle to give it three stars. In fact the three stars it's getting is just in case any of the professors who have contributed to it and will be marking my work shortly might read this review and spot who I am. Anyway to cut a long story short, if you enjoy watching the History Channel (which incidentally in our house is called 'The War Channel') if you like Newsnight, Dragon's den, subscribe to the Economist and want to be a Merchant Banker when you graduate, then I suspect you'll devour it in less than 2 hours, and give it 5 stars here.

For me, it's a bit too much like nineteenth century historians would write about the twentieth century, for example on page 53 'Asquith stepped effortlessly into the premiership in 1908 and looked the part immediately'. You know what? I don't care about Asquith. That was under the 'Fiscal Crisis' by the way if that whets your appetite.

As it proceeds through the twentieth century it gets quite hilarious,as the book tries to stay up to date, almost as if the publishers want you to have it as a coffee table book and as if you'd pick it up to remember what was going on in 1992. So on page 414 there's a footnote 'It was not known that Major himself had had an affair in the 1980s with the Conservative junior minister Edwina Currie until the publication in 2002 of Currie's memoirs'.

It's not so much history as politics. The twentieth century is treated in the standard way of a progressively improving place with good chaps leading the way. Boring, turgid and ridiculous. And who, by the way, was the Metric Equivalents of Imperial Units Chart on page 6 published for? Some French metric historical political enthusiasts who might have picked up the book by accident? I wonder how many times the owners of this book have thought - ooh, how many hundredweights are in a tonne, I might pick up my Peter Clarke history text book to check?

I did like the prologue, where he looked like he was going to talk about interesting stuff like married women having 10 pregnancies, but actually the whole book is more like an instruction manual to the mood swings of prime ministers and imperial heavyweights.

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