Review by Choice Review
How should (or could) one provide an overview of the vast outpouring of recent work in British social history? The method adopted here is to divide the subject into three topical volumes and then to assign particular subjects, such as religion or education, to individual authors. This decision brings significant advantages, whether in terms of a depth of coverage or in a breadth afforded by 1,400 pages and numerous contributors. It is particularly welcome to find such space and care devoted to delineating the characteristic textures of different regions (whether in Scotland, Wales, or England) and to teasing out relationships (such as that between state and society) that are too often omitted. The strongest essays (e.g., that by Martin Daunton on housing) are ideal introductions to their chosen topics, and will be welcomed by a wide range of scholars. But for all its virtues, this ambitious effort fails as a synthesis. Partly, this reflects the fragmentation of social history and also the growing recognition that developments such as industrialization or the emergence of class conciousness now seem too incremental and uneven to serve as organizing themes. Partly, however, lack of synthesis stems from the organization and tone of these volumes, in which clear differences of interpretation or chronology (whether, for example, the 1850s or 1890s marked more significant turning points) go unremarked. Accordingly, these well-produced volumes will serve best as a reference work to be dipped into selectively. For a sense of how different issues fit together, readers might turn instead to editor Thompson's The Rise of Respectable Society (CH, Apr'89). Upper-division undergraduates and above. F. Coetzee Yale University
Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.