the guardian Fri 10 July 2009
The British left was out of power for most of the period covered by this book - 1918 to 1939 - but as Martin Pugh points out, it dominated the literary and cultural scene, with works such as George Orwell's The Road to Wigan Pier shaping our perception of the era. Yet as this revisionist history shows, it wasn't all doom and gloom (provided you didn't work in industry or agriculture). Many people saw their disposable income rise, and during the interwar period we became a nation of "obsessive consumers". Orwell described the age as "restless", and so is Pugh as he examines in detail every aspect of the times, public and private. It's an impressive performance. This was an era in which women had more freedom than ever before, although divorce was difficult and infidelity indulged ("Men get these attacks like kiddies get measles," advised Woman's Own). The first world war politicised people and, quietly, in the wings, the main political trend of the time was the rise of the Labour party, preparing the way for the electoral landslide of 1945.