David Edgerton’s book starts at the beginning of the 20th century but surges forward from 1945 with unsentimental reflections about the birth of our great British national health service, nationalised infrastructure postwar, and a redefinition of what it is to be British, wherever you live.
Once, when we talked of empire at war, we referred to Empire: a far-flung scattering of Britishness, diverse and yet somehow homogenous. That was then; this is now. We live in an exceptional country, a place that invites people from all over the world to call it ‘home’. Liberal, capitalist, and anti-nationalist too; we occupy a position that sits in the middle of a complex web of trade and influence, and we recovered from the second world war to phoenix as a nationality – reinventing ourselves in the 1970s as part of the European Union, absorbing and reabsorbing the ideas and cultures that make us so distinct now. ‘The Rise and Fall of the British Nation: A Twentieth-Century History’ is a broad look at Britain’s progress to date, using threads of war to make thought-provoking points about our potential as a nation, a people, and an influential power in the world today.