Second City

Birmingham and the Forging of Modern Britain

Second City
Richard Vinen
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Richard Vinen makes a compelling case for Birmingham as the overlooked heart of British historyFor over a century, Birmingham has been the second largest town in England, and at the heart of British history. In his enjoyable and thoughtful new book, Richard Vinen captures the drama of a small village that grew to become the quintessential city of the twentieth century- a place once synonymous with mass production, full employment and prosperity but which came to a cataclysmic halt in the 1980s. For much of its existence, Birmingham has been a great magnet for migration, drawing in a significant proportion of South Wales as well as people from India, Pakistan and the Caribbean. Indeed, much of British history - the passage of the first reform bill, the rise and fall of the Chamberlain dynasty, racial tension - only makes sense when Birmingham is brought into the picture. Vinen roots his sweeping story in the experience of individuals. This is a book about figures everyone has heard of, from J. R. R. Tolkien to Duran Duran, and those that everyone ought to have heard of, such as the Communist convenor at the Longbridge factory or the remarkable West Indians interviewed for the 1960s documentary The Colony. It also captures the ways in which hundreds of thousands of people - from the Welsh miners who poured into the car factories to a young woman dancing to reggae in the basement of Rebecca' s nightclub - were caught up in the convulsions of social change. Birmingham is not a pretty place, and its history does not always make for comfortable reading. But modern Britain does not make sense without it.
Vinen' s biography of the city is a spirited attempt at uncovering the mystery of how Birmingham, in his view, has managed for so long to stand at the centre of Britain' s modern industrial, economic, political and cultural history without anyone noticing. . . This absorbing book shows us how we did it. -- Lynsey Hanley * Observer * Richard Vinen' s new history of his native city explains everything . . . Vinen has written a history of Birmingham, but it is also a theory of Birmingham. And also, perhaps, a theory of England. I buy it. -- Matthew Sweet * Daily Telegraph * A superb retort to [the] slings and arrows of derision . . . Birmingham' s very mutability . . . is the key to its survival. -- Stuart Jeffries * Spectator * PRAISE FOR NATIONAL SERVICE: Written with compassion and insight, Vinen' s book brilliantly recreates the atmosphere of postwar Britain. -- Tony Barber * Financial Times Books of the Year * I can' t recall ever having read so unexpectedly fascinating a book. . . every single page has something of great interest on it. -- Nicholas Lezard * Guardian *
Richard Vinen is Professor of History at King' s College, London and the author of a number of major books. He won the Wolfson Prize for History for National Service (2014).