Cannadine, David. The Pleasures of the Past.

NY: Norton, 1989.

The author, in addition to being an academic historian on both sides of the Atlantic and a Fellow of the British Academy, has reviewed a great many books over the years for the Times Literary Supplement, the New York Review of Books, and other publications. This volume collects thirty of his review essays from the 1980s, all on British subjects as diverse as the House of Windsor, Sir Edward Elgar, the Dictionary of National Biography, and the BBC.

His style in this area of his writing, while informed and judicious, is sprightly rather than scholarly and all of these pieces are enjoyable and informative — especially to anyone already interested in the history and culture of Britain. However, it’s inevitable that some of them haven’t worn well over the past quarter-century. For example, the very first one, a review of Pearson’s The Ultimate Family (1986), is now badly outdated (as is the book it discusses) by subsequent events involving the then recently married Charles and Diana. Cannadine’s reviews of books on Lord Mountbatten and Prince Albert, however, are still very useful and have caused me to add a few more titles to my “To Read” list. His considerations of various topics in the history of London and in British urban history generally, as well as the effects of assiduous time-keeping in modern life, the sex lives of the Victorian bourgeoisie, the pathological secrecy of the Secret Service, and nostalgia for the irretrievable past, are very good indeed.

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Published in: on 29 March 2012 at 6:10 am  Leave a Comment  
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