A Comprehensive Look at Britain Going to War
History professor Daniel Todman has written an encyclopedic look at what the effects were of the onset of World War II and its actual beginning on the people of Britain. Aside from the broad geopolitical history which is well known, Todman details the internal politics of both the Conservative and Labour parties as well as discussing the day-to-day lives of the British people. It is a long book for the lay reader, 816 pages in the print edition, but the reader is rewarded. Still I would have preferred a shorter book, hence four stars, not five. Moreover for readers interested in a very accessible view into the lives of the average Brit during the war I would recommend the British television series, “Foyle’s War” available on Netflix.
Todman begins his book with the coronation of George VI in May 1937 and ends with twin debacles at the start of the Pacific War at Pearl Harbor and sinking of the prides of the British fleet off Singapore by carrier based Japanese aircraft in December 1941. It is a lot of history to cover and at home aside from the collapse of the old industrial regions of the north, the British economy was doing relatively well in the 1930s being governed by moderate conservative policies. For all practical purposes Labour was frozen out. However as the war clouds grow in Europe the British economy is put on a war footing increasing taxation and putting much activity under the command and control of the government. This is Labour’s opening to power.
With the collapse of France, Chamberlain resigns and Churchill becomes Prime Minister to rally the country after Dunkirk. The key Labour ministers in the government are Ernest Bevan and Clement Atlee. Their long term goals are to bring socialism to Great Britain. They succeed in 1945 so much so that their policies hold back the country for the next 30 years. (My comment, not the author’s.) Churchill’s goal is to preserve the British Empire; at this he fails. He also fails in the sense the liberal reform wing of the Conservative Party headed by Eden and Macmillan end up in control. Nevertheless he certainly wins the main fight in defeating the Nazis.
Todman has given us an excellent work of history and for the real history buff I highly recommend it, a little less so for the average lay reader.
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