Open any newspaper today and you will find a huge variety of news. Domestic politics vies for attention with international relations, trade wars, military events and financial disasters. Some stories develop over weeks or even months, while others appear like lightning, sweeping everything else aside for a day or two. Sprinkled among these articles is the stuff of everyday life: book reviews, film premieres, obituaries, gossip and adverts for shoes and soap.
Daniel Todman’s magisterial history of Britain during the Second World War is organised along the same lines. Apart from the gargantuan, inescapable presence of the war, there is no single theme that dominates this work. Todman covers the military events in detail, but he also deals with the social and economic costs of the war, the huge shifts in party politics, the changes in religious thinking, class consciousness, attitudes towards empire, women’s rights, culture – and, yes, the availability of shoes and soap. Virtually no aspect of British life is left untouched.
This is a refreshing approach, but it comes at a price. Todman’s history consists of two volumes (of which this is the second), each of them as thick as a house brick. The first volume, published in 2016, covered the years 1937 to 1941. It was 850 pages