Book Review: WE DANCED ALL NIGHT by Martin Pugh

Title in blue on grey next to people crowded in buses
Genre: Non-fiction History
Age range: adult
Star Rating: 3 stars
Series: standalone


Book cover for WE DANCED ALL NIGHT: title in blue above image of people crammed atop two buses

Bounded by the Great War on one side and by the looming shadow of the Second World War on the other, the inter-war period has characteristically been portrayed as a time of great and unrelenting depression. In Martin Pugh’s lively and thought-provoking book, however, the acclaimed historian vividly shows how the British people reacted to the privations of wartime by indulging in leisure and entertainment activities of all kinds – from dancing and cinema going to smoking, football pools and paid holidays.

He explodes the myths of a nation of unwed women, revealing that in the 1930s the institution of marriage was reaching its heyday, and points to a rise in real incomes, improvements in diet and health and the spread of cheap luxuries. The result is an extraordinary, engaging work of history that presents us with a fresh perspective and brings out both the strangeness and the familiarity of this point in time.

Synopsis taken from Goodreads. Add to your shelves here.


Reading this book was a radical time period shift from the Anglo-Saxon books I’ve been reading, and also much tighter in focus on two decades rather than several centuries. It was a nice change from those, as was the focus of the book. I had been struggling a bit with my reading previously, and this was a lot easier.

The tagline on my copy was “a social history of Britain between the wars,” and that very much dictates the way the book is written. It is not a chronological view of the two decades, it’s a look at the themes of society over those years. Though it focuses on the interwar years, there are a lot of pre-war contrast because so many themes start before and then get changed or accelerated by the First World War.

That thematic approach makes a lot of sense, particularly as it’s about the social history and not the big political narrative of reparations and the lead up to the Second World War. Without that political aspect, you can’t have a chronological narrative because the various themes of life, so you go thematically.

Usually, thematic approaches don’t work for me because they’re usually sandwiched and chopped and changed around the narrative chronological events. That style feels really jumbled, because it’s hard to bounce between the two.

However, the purely social themes meant that it worked well because it didn’t involve me trying to match the thematic to a narrative. Plus it allowed for a dive into each of the areas across a period rather than doing it piecemeal for each theme in each year.

Overall, it’s a good overview to the various aspects of life often ignored in historical overviews of periods that like to focus on the big events of history.

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