A History of Modern Britain by Andrew Marr

I’ve taken quite a long time (nearly two months) to read Andrew Marr’s A History of Britain, which covers the post World War II period up to 2006, with an added introduction in the paperback edition written in 2008. This is a brief review of a very long and detailed book – too long and detailed for me to sum up meaningfully in a few paragraphs.

So, here is the blurb from the back cover:

This is an account of great political visions – and how they were defeated – and of the resilience, humour and stroppiness of the British public. From the Second World War onwards, Britain has been a country on edge: first of invasion, then of bankruptcy, then on the vulnerable front line of the Cold War, and later in the forefront of the great opening up of capital and migration now reshaping the world. This history follows all the political and economic stories, but deals too with comedy, cars, the war against homosexuals, Sixties anarchists, oil-men and punks, Margaret Thatcher’s wonderful good luck, the true heroes of British theatre, and the victory of shopping over politics.

I wanted to read this book after watching Andrew Marr’s BBC 2 series, History of Modern Britain, which was first shown in 5 episodes in 2007 –  but it was the EU Referendum that nudged me into reading it this year. Like many others, I’ve now become addicted to news and comment programmes, but my knowledge of modern history, even though, or maybe because, I’ve lived through a lot of it, is sketchy, so it was fascinating, if somewhat scary, to read about events I remembered or had half-forgotten.

It’s an obvious statement, but still true, that Britain has changed since 1945 to be almost unrecognisable today and inevitably it is still changing. This book shows how we were then and how we got to where we are today. It’s mainly a political and economic history, with short sections on social and cultural events thrown into the mix.

Despite its length and complexities it is a readable book, which doesn’t surprise me as Andrew Marr is a journalist, TV presenter and political commentator. He was born in Glasgow in 1959. He studied English at the University of Cambridge and has since enjoyed a long career in political journalism, working for the Scotsman, the Independent, the Daily Express and the Observer. From 2000 to 2005 he was the BBC’s Political Editor. He has written and presented TV documentaries on history, science and politics, and presents the weekly Andrew Marr Show on Sunday mornings on BBC1 and Start the Week on Radio 4.

  • Paperback: 672 pages
  • Publisher: Pan; Reprints edition (6 Mar. 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0330511475
  • ISBN-13: 978-0330511476
  • Source: my own copy

Reading challenges: Mount TBR Reading Challenge and Read Scotland.

8 thoughts on “A History of Modern Britain by Andrew Marr

  1. I think a book like that is well worth taking a couple of months to read. It’s easy to rush these books and not take in the information. Funny… we’ve become addicted to politcal news and commentary too. Although we were quite interested before… often watching PMQs for instance. I’ll keep an eye out for this one as I rather like Andrew Marr.


    1. We were quite interested before – watching Question Time and This Week, but I found myself watching anything about current affairs too, interviews, analyses, etc. We’ve started to watch PMQs as well – quite appalled at the behaviour of MPs (we did know what it was like, but not watched before).


  2. I’ve come close to reading this book a number of times. Like you, I want a greater understanding of what brought us to this point. I’ll need to set aside time for it. Perhaps a winter read. Thanks for the review.


    1. Sandra, to a large extent it is an overview of events, but it did reinforce my memories and explain things I’d not realised before. He’s also written ‘The Making of Modern Britain: From Queen Victoria to V.E. Day’, which I hope to read later this year.


  3. It sounds as though this is just fascinating, as well as informative, Margaret. I can imagine it’s something one wants to savour slowly, rather than try to race through too quickly. I’m glad you thought it worth the investment of time.


  4. I might add this one to my Read Scotland list, it’s about time I read some non-fiction. I had no idea that Andrew Marr is the same age as me and was also born in Glasgow. I can hardly believe how much Britain has changed since the 1970s.


  5. I have definitely got to read this book–I know English history pretty thoroughly through 1945 and then nothing!

    My mother revisited England in 2012 (when she was 88) after not seeing it since 1960, when she and my dad emigrated for the second time back to the US, and she reported that “everything has been so cleaned up!” She was still thinking of England as it was in 1960.

    I agree that books like this are best read slowly, to be digested, pondered, and savored.


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