Dominic Sandbrook is best known for four hefty books, beginning with Never Had It So Good in 2005, which together constitute a voluminous survey of the cultural, social and political history of Britain from 1956 to 1979. When they appeared, these books felt fresh and surprising in the way they mixed the high serious with the seemingly banal. They paid as much attention to caravanning, Berni Inns, boil-in-the-bag meals, easy listening music and Crossroads as they did to Cabinet meetings, protest marches and the cultural interests of the metropolitan middle class who generally control our idea of the zeitgeist. Sandbrook showed himself to be an expert at uncovering yesterday’s ephemera, making good use, it seemed, of what has been one of the great windfalls for contemporary historians in recent years: the digitising of newspaper and magazine archives, allowing an era’s transient fads and fixations to be unearthed through keyword searches. Like David Kynaston, who was embarking around the same time on a similarly ambitious multi-volume history of postwar Britain, Sandbrook relied on the accumulation and creative juxtaposition of telling detail and thick description to challenge our preconceptions and convey what it was really like to be alive in the recent past.
The Great British