This monumental tome, probably exceeding 250,000 words, and clearly underpinned by a positively vast amount of research and reading, is to be most warmly welcomed. For the first time ever, we have a substantial, thoroughly researched, and lucidly crafted study of the history of Wales from the beginning of the Second World War right through almost to the present day. The author has previously served his apprenticeship primarily as a historian of sport in Wales, but the present study clearly establishes him as a master of various disparate (and yet closely intertwined) themes in our very recent history. The study especially deserves to be commended for its incisive coverage of recent Welsh social and economic history. The author also has an eagle eye for the telling quotation from the source materials which much enlivens his writing.
Throughout, the text is clearly supported by a huge amount of reading of all kinds of secondary sources, strengthened by some (if limited) work on Welsh newspapers and documentary sources at the National Archive at Kew where the records of some government departments have been usefully quarried for the early period covered by this study. (Those from the later period are not as yet available.) It would appear, however, that few Welsh language sources have been used. But overall, the volume is indeed ‘thunderously well informed’ (Emeritus Professor Gareth Williams).
Quite apart from appreciating the general overview of our recent diverse history in all its aspects, readers will find a great deal to savour here: compelling themes such as the establishment and impact of the pioneering National Health Service; the horrors of the Aberfan disaster of October 1966; and the successive miners’ strikes of the 1970s and, above all, that of 1984–85. The ethos of these coalfield communities is exceptionally well dissected with profound understanding of their inhabitants and their attitudes. The author is perhaps at his best when dealing with social and communal history. There is an especially fine delineation of life on derelict, run-down council housing estates by the 1980s, foremost the infamous Penrhys estate in Rhondda Fawr.
Some themes could probably have been examined in greater depth – scientific and technological advances, Welsh and Anglo-Welsh literature and culture, scholastic and historical work, and possibly the profound religious changes which extended throughout this period. Although throughout the book, the endnote references are unfailing full, accurate and genuinely helpful, a full bibliography of the sources used would undoubtedly have been a useful addition. Also, conspicuously, there are no photographs or illustrative matter.
But this is a truly magisterial study and analysis which deserves and will certainly achieve a wide and indeed varied readership. The Manchester University Press also deserves to be commended for producing hardback and paperback editions of the work almost simultaneously, the latter modestly priced and thus within the reach of impoverished students and over-stretched library budgets alike. This outstandingly good study will certainly hold its own and be widely consulted for many a long year.
J. Graham Jones
It is possible to use this review for promotional purposes, but the following acknowledgment should be included: A review from www.gwales.com, with the permission of the Welsh Books Council.
Gellir defnyddio'r adolygiad hwn at bwrpas hybu, ond gofynnir i chi gynnwys y gydnabyddiaeth ganlynol: Adolygiad oddi ar www.gwales.com, trwy ganiatâd Cyngor Llyfrau Cymru.
Martin Johnes is Head of History and Classics at Swansea University.
Wales has also been deeply divided by class, language, ethnicity, gender, religion and region. Its people have grown wealthier, healthier and more educated but they have not always been happier. This ground-breaking book examines the story of Wales since 1939, giving voice to ordinary people and the variety of experiences within the nation. This is a history of not just a nation, but of its residents’ hopes and fears, their struggles and pleasures and their views of where they live and the wider world.