Book Review: THE THIRTIES by Juliet Gardnier

Genre: Non-Fiction History
Age Range: Adult
Star rating: 1 star
Series: Standalone


J.B. Priestley famously described the ‘three Englands’ he saw in the 1930s: Old England, nineteenth-century England and the new, post-war England. Thirties Britain was, indeed, a land of contrasts, at once a nation rendered hopeless by the Depression, unemployment and international tensions, yet also a place of complacent suburban home-owners with a baby Austin in every garage.

Now Juliet Gardiner, acclaimed author of the award-winning Wartime, provides a fresh perspective on that restless, uncertain, ambitious decade, bringing the complex experience of thirties Britain alive through newspapers, magazines, memoirs, letters and diaries.

Gardiner captures the essence of a people part-mesmerised by ‘modernism’ in architecture, art and the proliferation of ‘dream palaces’, by the cult of fitness and fresh air, the obsession with speed, the growth and regimentation of leisure, the democratisation of the countryside, the celebration of elegance, glamour and sensation. Yet, at the same time, this was a nation imbued with a pervasive awareness of loss – of Britain’s influence in the world, of accepted political, social and cultural signposts, and finally of peace itself.

Synopsis taken from Goodreads. Add to your shelves here.


I am done! Apparently it has taken me three months to finish this book, which isn’t my worst record for non-fiction (that “honour” goes to ANGLO-SAXON ENGLAND) but it’s still not great. The reason this book was so hard to read is basically the same as it was for ANGLO-SAXON ENGLAND; it’s not narrative non-fiction.

THE THIRTIES is not telling a(n obvious) story, it’s not charting someone’s life, not following chronologically through the years. This means it lacks obvious progression. I spent pretty much the entire book going “OK, so how is this related at all to the previous chapter?” and often wondering how I got from one topic to another within a chapter. That lack of continuity really broke up the flow and made it hard to follow.

It does have a logic to it – it’s following themes (much of which is economics) but that doesn’t make for an engaging read. There isn’t a story to sink your teeth in and follow, no people who are constantly there or parties, nothing to invest in to find out what happens next.

There are a lot of names. An awful lot constantly barraging you – and then probably never coming back. It makes for a lot to take in and I struggled to recall what was happening even a paragraph later after getting twenty plus names in the (very long) paragraph. It was too much to follow and digest, and mostly didn’t really add to the overall “what was happening and what did it mean” narrative.

Well, it’s over – so let’s hope the next non-fiction book is more enjoyable.


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