Obscurity Knocks

Earnest, empathetic, industrious, unpretentious, gay Virgo in Milwaukee with a great life, amazing friends, and a wonderful family.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Our Times

I recently read "Our Times: The Age of Elizabeth II" by A. N. Wilson. It's a history of Britain from 1952 to 2008. Wilson is clearly an extremely talented author and a most entertaining writer. I'd hate to have to go head to head with him intellectually, because there's no question that he'd decimate me. With the exception of one chapter, the book isn't about the Royal Family or Queen Elizabeth II. Rather, it's a political, social, and intellectual history of Britain during the Queen's reign. Wilson takes no prisoners, eviscerating just about every major political figure over the period. The Prime Ministers, in particular, are taken to task and ruthlessly attacked. He seems to argue that Margaret Thatcher did the most, although Wilson certainly doesn't agree with the dramatic changes that Thatcher's premiership brought to Britain. His biggest attack is on Harold Macmillan. No political leader emerges unscathed from Wilson's attacks, some of which are well-deserved and accurate, others are simply mean spirited and unnecessary. Wilson makes a good case for the ineptness of politicians over the period, and he illustrates this vividly and with often humorous anecdotes. He shines in his overview of the decline of the established Anglican Church and Roman Catholicism in Britain, and provides a sharp contrast between these declines and the radical Islam that is a reality of the present day. Wilson is also critical of the decline in quality of the arts in Britain during this time period, and he makes his case effectively in this regard when he compares authors and artists before 1952 with those who came after. Overall, the book bemoans Britain's decline and places the blame squarely on the ineffective politicians who governed Britain during the Queen's reign.
Wilson concedes the many ways that life is better for Britons in 2008 than it was in 1952, particularly the significant rise in the standard of living, the role of women, and the decriminalisation of homosexuality. While affirming this progress, he bemoans the loss of British-ness and how devolution is threatening the existence of the UK, predicting that Scotland will become an independent nation in the 21st century. Wilson may be prophetic here, but I can't imagine that it will happen since the English presently provide a fairly significant monetary subsidy to the Scots, something that would be difficult for the Scots to give up.
While the book is a most entertaining read, Wilson plays fast and loose with the facts. He gets the date of the Glorious Revolution incorrect (1688 is the correct date), uses Wikipedia as a source in a footnote, and claims that 26,000 American soldiers have lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan, which simply isn't accurate.
With respect to the Royal Family, Wilson offers the best assessment I've read to date of the Prince of Wales, making the case for the many positive qualities of Prince Charles while also fairly and accurately pointing out his weaknesses. Wilson's assessment of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales in 1997 and its relevance to modern Britain is insightful.
9 of 10 on entertainment value. 5 of 10 on historical accuracy and respect for others.


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