Richard Vinen is the author of the highly-praised A History in Fragments: Europe in the Twentieth Century, The Unfree French: Life under the Occupation (published by Penguin) and Thatcher's Britain. He is Professor of History at King's College, London.
Richard Vinen's new book is a serious - if often very entertaining - attempt to get to grips with the reality of National Service, an extraordinary institution which now seems as remote as the British Empire itself. With great sympathy and curiosity, Vinen unpicks the myths of the two 'gap years', which all British men who came of age between 1945 and the early 1960s had to fill with National Service. Millions of teenagers were thrown together and under often brutal conditions taught to obey orders and to fight. The luck of the draw might result in two years of boredom in some dilapidated British barracks, but it could also mean being thrown into a dangerous combat mission in a remote part of the world. By any measure National Service had a huge impact on the nature of British society, and yet it has been remarkably little written about. As the military's needs wound down and Britain ceased to be a great power, National Service came to be seen as just an embarrassment, and its culture of rank and discipline something which many British people were by the 1960s running away from. But without a proper understanding of National Service the story of post-war Britain barely makes sense. Richard Vinen provides that missing book. It will be fascinating to those who endured or even enjoyed their time in uniform, but also to anyone wishing to understand the unique nature of post-war Britain.
1968 saw an extraordinary range of protests across much of the western world. Some of these were genuinely revolutionary - around ten million French workers went on strike and the whole state teetered on the brink of collapse. Others were more easily contained, but had profound longer-term implications - terrorist groups, feminist collectives, gay rights activists could all trace important roots to 1968. Bill Clinton and even Tony Blair are, in many ways, the product of that year. The Long '68 is a striking and original attempt half a century on to show how these events, which in some ways still seem so current, stemmed from histories and societies which are in practice now extraordinarily remote from our own time. The book pursues the story into the 1970s to show both the ever more violent forms of radicalization that stemmed from 1968 and the brutal reaction that brought the era to an end.
Winner of the Templer Medal and the Wolfson History Prize Sunday Times Top 10 Bestseller Richard Vinen's National Service is a serious - if often very entertaining - attempt to get to grips with the reality of that extraordinary institution, which now seems as remote as the British Empire itself. With great sympathy and curiosity, Vinen unpicks the myths of the two 'gap years', which all British men who came of age between 1945 and the early 1960s had to fill with National Service. This book is fascinating to those who endured or even enjoyed their time in uniform, but also to anyone wishing to understand the unique nature of post-war Britain.
Britain's first female prime minister remains a political figure of almost mythical proportions. Margaret Thatcher divided a political nation, became a cultural icon, and was the longest-serving prime minister of the twentieth century. Her period in government coincided with extraordinary changes in British society and in Britain's place in the world. Thatcher's Britaintells the story of Thatcherism for a generation with no personal memories of the 80s, as well as for those who want to revisit the polemics of their youth. It seeks to rescue Thatcher from being seen as John the Baptist for Tony Blair, stresses that Thatcherism was not a timeless phenomenon, but rooted in the 70s and 80s, and focuses our attention away from her legend, to what her government actually did during this tumultuous period in British history.
In the summer of 1940 the French army was one of the largest and best in the world, confident of victory. In the space of a few nightmarish weeks that all changed as the French and their British allies were crushed and eight million people fled their homes. Richard Vinen's new book describes the consequences of that defeat. It does so not by looking at political leaders in Vichy or Paris or London but rather at those who were caught up in daily horrors of war. It describes the fate of a French prisoner of war who was punished because he wrote a love letter to a German woman, and the fate of a French woman who gave birth to a German-fathered child as the Americans landed in Normandy. It describes the 'false policemen' who proliferated in occupied Paris as desperate men on the run seeking to feed themselves by blackmailing those who were even more vulnerable than themselves. It asks why some gentile French people chose to risk imprisonment by wearing yellow stars. It recounts the fate of a couple of estranged middle-aged Jews, separated by the mobilisation of 1939, who found themselves (in July 1942) on the same train to Auschwitz. Extremely moving and brilliantly readable, The Unfree French is a remarkable addition to the literature of the Second World War.
The problem with the history of twentieth-century Europe is that everyone thinks they know it. The great stories of the century - the two world wars, the rise and fall of Nazism and communism, female emancipation - seem self-evidently important. But behind the grand narratives, the politics and the ideologies, lies another history: the history of forces that shaped the lives of individual Europeans.That is the thrust of Richard Vinen's magisterial survey of this uniquely destructive and creative century. It argues that there is no single history that encompasses the experience of all Europeans, but rather a multiplicity of different, partially interlocking, histories. Some of these histories are told here in a book which seeks to root the generalisations of large-scale analysis in the concrete - and sometimes incongruous - details of individual lives. Challenging, informing and revealing, this is history writing at its finest.
This book describes the history of France between the anti-parliamentary riots of 1934 and the death of de Gaulle in 1970. It is written as a series of interpretative essays rather than a straight chronological account. Special emphasis is laid on the broad social conflicts - between classes, sexes and generations - that underlay the complicated party politics of France. Attention is also given to the episodes - the rule of the Vichy government, the Algerian war, the 'thirty glorious years of economic growth', and the student riots of 1968 - that helped to transform the nation of Clochemerle into that of Concorde.