Sir Richard Eyre: The People’s War

This month’s book has been chosen by Sir Richard Eyre. Here’s what he told us:

“The book I return to  consistently (and obsessively) is a book of social history: The People’s War by Angus Calder. It’s the story of the people of Britain during the Second World War – their endurance and patience, and their cowardice, complaints and selfishness as much as their heroism and humanity.

Much of the attraction of The People’s War for me is archaeological, the excavation of a world whose relics were gas masks, ration books, air raid sirens, Anderson shelters, allotments, bakelite radios, bombed out houses, just barely the world of my childhood, but all the more potent for being forever a lost domain. Like any evocation of childhood, the book is filled with fables, anecdotes of figures who have the status of demons and giants of folklore.

With its dynasties, its reversals and its hint of a happy ending, it reads like a compelling family chronicle – a family in which, as Orwell said, there are “rich relations who have to be kowtowed to and poor relations who are horribly sat upon, and there is a deep conspiracy of silence about the source of the family income.” In Angus Calder’s family tale I discovered a way of looking at my own country that changed my thinking as much as any book I’ve read. I found a book which could, to paraphrase Auden, teach the unhappy Present to recite the Past.”

Sir Richard Eyre is a renowned film and theatre director. In 2013 he directed Simon Gray’s Quartermaine’s Terms at the Wyndham Theatre.



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