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The twilight years : the paradox of Britain between the wars / Richard Overy.

By: Overy, R. J. (Richard James), 1947-.
Material type: materialTypeLabelBookPublisher: New York, N.Y. : Viking, c2009Description: xxi, 521 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm.Content type: text Media type: unmediated Carrier type: volumeISBN: 9780670021130(hbk).Subject(s): Great Britain -- Social conditions -- 20th century | Great Britain -- History -- George V, 1910-1936 | Great Britain -- History -- George VI, 1936-1952 | Great Britain -- Social life and customs -- 1918-1945DDC classification: Online resources: Contributor biographical information | Publisher description Summary: By the end of World War I, Britain had become a laboratory for modernity. Intellectuals, politicians, scientists, and artists--among them Arnold Toynbee, Aldous Huxley, and H. G. Wells--sought a vision for a rapidly changing world. Coloring their innovative ideas and concepts, from eugenics to Freud's unconscious, was a creeping fear that the West was staring down the end of civilization. In their home country of Britain, many of these fears were unfounded. The country had not suffered from economic collapse, occupation, civil war, or any of the ideological conflicts of inter-war Europe. Nevertheless, the modern era's promise of progress was overshadowed by a looming sense of decay and death that would deeply influence creative production and public argument between the wars.--From publisher description.
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Enhanced descriptions from Syndetics:

From a leading British historian, the story of how fear of war shaped modern England

By the end of World War I, Britain had become a laboratory for modernity. Intellectuals, politicians, scientists, and artists?among them Arnold Toynbee, Aldous Huxley, and H. G. Wells?sought a vision for a rapidly changing world. Coloring their innovative ideas and concepts, from eugenics to Freud?s unconscious, was a creeping fear that the West was staring down the end of civilization.

In their home country of Britain, many of these fears were unfounded. The country had not suffered from economic collapse, occupation, civil war, or any of the ideological conflicts of inter-war Europe. Nevertheless, the modern era?s promise of progress was overshadowed by a looming sense of decay and death that would deeply influence creative production and public argument between the wars.

In The Twilight Years , award-winning historian Richard Overy examines the paradox of this period and argues that the coming of World War II was almost welcomed by Britain?s leading thinkers, who saw it as an extraordinary test for the survival of civilization? and a way of resolving their contradictory fears and hopes about the future.

Originally published: The morbid age. London : Allen Lane, 2009.

Includes bibliographical references (p. 385-500) and index.

By the end of World War I, Britain had become a laboratory for modernity. Intellectuals, politicians, scientists, and artists--among them Arnold Toynbee, Aldous Huxley, and H. G. Wells--sought a vision for a rapidly changing world. Coloring their innovative ideas and concepts, from eugenics to Freud's unconscious, was a creeping fear that the West was staring down the end of civilization. In their home country of Britain, many of these fears were unfounded. The country had not suffered from economic collapse, occupation, civil war, or any of the ideological conflicts of inter-war Europe. Nevertheless, the modern era's promise of progress was overshadowed by a looming sense of decay and death that would deeply influence creative production and public argument between the wars.--From publisher description.

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Table of contents provided by Syndetics

  • List of Illustrations (p. ix)
  • Preface and Acknowledgements (p. xiii)
  • Note on Currency (p. xv)
  • Britain 1919-1939: A Chronological Introduction (p. xvii)
  • Introduction: Cassandras and Jeremiahs (p. 1)
  • 1 Decline and Fall (p. 9)
  • 2 The Death of Capitalism (p. 50)
  • 3 A Sickness in the Racial Body (p. 93)
  • 4 Medicine and Poison: Psychoanalysis and Social Dismay (p. 136)
  • 5 Why War? (p. 175)
  • 6 Challenge to Death (p. 219)
  • 7 Utopian Politics: Cure or Disease? (p. 265)
  • 8 'The Voyage of the Death Ship': War and the Fate of the World (p. 314)
  • 9 A Morbid Age (p. 363)
  • Notes (p. 385)
  • Bibliography and sources (p. 474)
  • Index (p. 501)

Reviews provided by Syndetics

Library Journal Review

Overy (Why the Allies Won) describes the irrational pessimism that hung like a curtain over British intellectual life between the world wars and formed the basis for the overwhelming paradox that paralyzed England until the outbreak of war in 1939. This pessimism was paradoxical because things were not as dire in Great Britain as the English thought. On the one hand, the English believed civilization was doomed, yet they also believed it was their responsibility to save it. They thought absolute pacifism was necessary, but war was inevitable. Overy clearly describes how this paradox affected areas as diverse as the eugenics movement, psychoanalysis, political cooperation, and economics. VERDICT Well researched and lucidly written, this book will appeal to those interested in understanding how the intellectual elite of Europe failed to resolve and in fact contributed to the very "crisis" they were trying to prevent.-Michael Farrell, Reformed Theological Seminary Lib., Oviedo, FL (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Booklist Review

Great Britain emerged from World War I battered but not devastated, her infrastructure largely unscathed. The empire was intact and her political system remained stable. Of course, the British people would suffer during the world depression, but not at the level endured by Germany. Yet, as this engrossing study illustrates, the political and cultural elites that dominated public discourse between the wars suffered from a deep malaise, characterized by a strong sense of impending doom as British and Western civilization seemed confronted by external threats and internal decay of strength and values. Overy, a professor of modern history at the University of Exeter, asserts that this anxiety and pessimism was not confined to social elites. Rather, due to expanded public education and greater literary and mass communication, these attitudes permeated all levels of British society. The influence of these doom mongers was destructive and helped foster the British indecision in the face of the real threat posed by Nazi Germany. This well-written and provocative work is likely to engender controversy.--Freeman, Jay Copyright 2009 Booklist

Kirkus Book Review

Overy (Modern History/Univ. of Exeter; The Dictators: Hitler's Germany, Stalin's Russia, 2004, etc.) chronicles the various forces of anxiety that gripped British society in the interwar period. The author calls this era the "morbid age," when the Great War had shattered the hopeful progression for civilization during the previous "rosy belle poque," ushering in fears about impending catastrophe. Overy considers these gloomy forces in turn, from the physical evidence of human breakdown in the form of the war's survivorsmillions of men shell-shocked and psychologically damagedto frightening predictions by social scientists and the growing appeal of eugenics, psychoanalysis and pacifism. Writers like Leonard Woolf rued the passing of the "ordered way of life" to be replaced by surges of "hatred, fear and self-preservation" after the war, and seminal jeremiads by H.G. Wells, Gilbert Murray, Oswald Spengler and Arnold Toynbee announced a crisis of Western civilization. The capitalist system was doomed to decay, asserted intellectuals Beatrice and Sidney Webb, while Walter Greenwood's sadly realistic working-class novel Love on the Dole (1933) captured the popular despair during hard economic times. Overy's chapter "A Sickness in the Body" examines the work of early birth-control crusaders like Marie Stopes, whose aim was actually "race improvement" and discouragement of "reckless breeding" by the "unfit"though Overy skirts the issue of anti-Semitism. Meanwhile, the fashionable new field of psychoanalysis was going to cure the ills of civilization, even though Freud's prognosis was essentially pessimistic. As the fear of a new world crisis loomed, people wondered about the causes of war, peace activists tried to be heard and public sentiment fractured into "creed wars" represented by extreme factions such as Soviet communism and German National Socialism. Overy proves to be a fastidious researcher, and he creates an intriguing, albeit scholarly, narrative. A bracing study that demonstrates how the drumbeat of doom became self-perpetuating. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.