Review: The Decline and Fall of the British Aristocracy by David Cannadine

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At the outset of the 1870s, the British aristocracy could rightly consider themselves the most fortunate people on earth: they held the lion’s share of land, wealth, and power in the world’s greatest empire. By the end of the 1930s they had lost not only a generation of sons in the First World War, but also much of their prosperity, prestige, and political significance.

Deftly orchestrating an enormous array of documents and letters, facts, and statistics, David Cannadine shows how this shift came about–and how it was reinforced in the aftermath of the Second World War. Astonishingly learned, lucidly written, and sparkling with wit, The Decline and Fall of the British Aristocracy is a landmark study that dramatically changes our understanding of British social history.

I read this book to go along with Rutherford Park as it was about the British peerage at the same time period. In this particular instance I’m not reviewing the validity of the information in the book so much as I’m reviewing the readability. This is a THOROUGHLY researched book. Cannadine backs up his thesis meticulously with so much documentation of the changing of the British aristocracy that it would be hard to argue with anything the claims. The issue is the book was incredibly hard for me to read. There were points that I read several pages and then had to go back and reread because I had no idea what I’d just read. This was something I would never sit down and just read for pleasure. It’s not that there isn’t interesting information, it’s just that those are trails that the author doesn’t bother following because he was proving his own point. And that’s excellent. It was great historical research. But the side details were often so much more interesting than the main research point that I ended up regretting there wasn’t more sidetracking into some of the minor details.

2 out of 5

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