J W M Johnson

A Nation Writes

Our Hidden Lives: The Everyday Diaries of a Forgotten Britain 1945-1948


After spending some time studying cannibals in the South Pacific, the anthropologist Tom Harrisson came home in 1936 and decided that it would be just as interesting to subject the ordinary people of this country to similar scientific scrutiny. This led to the creation of Mass- Observation, very much a typical product of the period. The aim was to achieve an ‘anthropology of ourselves’ organising a close study of everyday people leading regular lives. Part of the chosen technique was to test volunteers around the country to keep private diaries of their daily doings, with the promise that their identities would protected. These documents (dutifully posted off to Mass- Observation headquarters) – pare now included in a massive archive held by the University of Sussex. They run to about a million pages. By the time the Second World War ended in 1945, the diarists, originally numbered in hundreds, had dwindled to only a few; but evidently they were all possessed of a certain talent, since it is from their diaries that this most engaging book has now been compiled.

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • Tarantino's latest film is 'a fairy tale about Hollywood, where fantasy is an industrial product and the boulevards… ,
    • 'I don’t think we’re here on Earth to be Happy. I think we’re here on Earth to help God. I am a messianic writer'.… ,
    • 'Darley’s book is not a mad dash through this most compelling and complex of English counties. Nor is it another ti… ,
    • 'Moser’s book offers such a gripping account of a profoundly damaged human being, trapped in a cycle of repetition,… ,
    • 'Ideas that I’d thought were set down in full continue to smoulder ... this book is only a snapshot of some larger… ,
    • 'Full of invention which, at its most pedestrian, is eminently Victorian, and at its most unrestrained wildly imagi… ,
    • 'What in other hands could have been a dry, pedantic account of Christianity’s birth and evolution becomes in Holla… ,