David Kynaston
Austerity Britain: 1945–51.
Walker & Company, 704 pages, $45

Britain emerged from the Second World War victorious but badly bruised. There was relief, of course; there was an underlying pride at having won through. But anything approaching euphoria was quickly dispelled by continuing hardships and restrictions, and by the prospect of more to come. In his new history, Austerity Britain: 1945–51, David Kynaston quotes a middle-aged schoolteacher writing in her diary, after the government had unveiled its 1951 Budget, “Oh, dear! What a THIN time lies ahead!” She might have been speaking, he adds, “for most people after most Budgets in the immediate post-war period.”

The title of Kynaston’s book virtually chose itself. “Austerity” has become a standard term for life in Britain after 1945, and with good...


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