History

Book review: "Our Times" by A.N. Wilson

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Sunday, February 28, 2010

OUR TIMES

The Age of Elizabeth II

By A.N. Wilson

Farrar Straus Giroux. 482 pp. $30

The reign of Queen Elizabeth II "is the one in which Britain effectively stopped being British," A.N. Wilson argues. Mass immigration, the loss of national sovereignty to the European Union and the unremitting Americanization of the country's culture are to blame. "Our Times" is the third book in Wilson's history of modern Britain, covering the period from Elizabeth's coronation in 1953 to the present day. It is a sharp-tongued elegy to what Wilson considers a vanished country. War hero Winston Churchill is panned as "tired, old, in decay" during his final years as prime minister in the mid-1950s. The queen is "shockingly, badly educated." The Beatles are dismissed as "pappy" and "rock music's easy listening." And Prime Minister Gordon Brown is accused of being the man who "sent Britannia packing."

"Our Times" is told more or less chronologically. Wilson likes zooming in on individuals and then pulling away to consider broader implications. An anecdote about supermodel Naomi Campbell leads to French thinker Michel Foucault's concept of madness and is followed by the author's thoughts on the rise of pharmaceuticals. In that instance, the technique works; other times, the connections feel scattershot. But the author's often unconventional and funny takes on even the most familiar of subjects keep the pages turning. On the sexual liberation of the 1960s, he quips, "My suspicion is that British human beings had no more orgasms in the 1960s than they did in the 1860s or even in the 1260s."

-- Stephen Lowman


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