SPECTATOR BOOKS OF THE YEAR 2015
Britain's empire has gone. Our manufacturing base is a shadow of its former self; the Royal Navy has been reduced to a skeleton. In military, diplomatic and economic terms, we no longer matter as we once did. And yet there is still one area in which we can legitimately claim superpower status: our popular culture.
It is extraordinary to think that one British writer, J. K. Rowling, has sold more than 400 million books; that Doctor Who is watched in almost every developed country in the world; that James Bond has been the central character in the longest-running film series in history; that The Lord of the Rings is the second best-selling novel ever written (behind only A Tale of Two Cities); that the Beatles are still the best-selling musical group of all time; and that only Shakespeare and the Bible have sold more books than Agatha Christie. To put it simply, no country on earth, relative to its size, has contributed more to the modern imagination.
This is a book about the success and the meaning of Britain's modern popular culture, from Bond and the Beatles to heavy metal and Coronation Street, from the Angry Young Men to Harry Potter, from Damien Hirst toThe X Factor.
Delightfully good ... an exuberant and learned celebration of British culture ... full of love for and fascination with everything from the origins of heavy metal in the metal-bashing industries of the West Midlands to the ruthlessness of John Lennon's and Damien Hirst's lust for money.
Not only thoroughly entertaining, but crammed with as many serious insights as a shelf-ful of academic studies.
Relentlessly entertaining ... unashamed in its concentration on popular culture ... unearthing all kinds of forgotten cultural heroes.
I read it in less than two days, my attention never flagging ... It's dramatic, perceptive and often extremely funny
I read it in less than two days, my attention never flagging ... Embracing everything from Black Sabbath's guitarist, Tony Iommi, losing his fingers in a sheet metal press to the 2012 Olympic opening ceremony, it's dramatic, perceptive and often extremely funny.
It was hard to find a more convincing read ... a highly entertaining look at everything from The Avengers to Harry Potter that proclaims Britain as the champion of culture, spreading words and songs internationally like no other
Sandbrook's hugely enjoyable analysis of why we continue to punch above our weight in this area ... covers everything from boarding school tales (Tom Brown to Harry Potter) to country house tales (Brideshead and Downton), the works of Tolkien to the 2012 Olympics.
Terrific fun ... Sandbrook isn't like other historians ... He heads off down strange, neglected byways, teasing out unexpected connections, with the results often proving far more illuminating - and enjoyable - than conventional narratives ... I defy you not to be swept up in a narrative that's as colourful as it is dramatic.
Engrossing ... delightful ... a book that relishes an argument and likes to challenge received opinion ... not only thoroughly entertaining, but crammed with as many serious insights as a shelf-ful of academic studies.
Witty ... enthusiastic ... a passionate and admirable defence of coach-party musical theatre, large-print historical fiction, wedding reception rock, Orc sagas, To the Manor Born, Arnold Bennett, Billy Bunter and Billy Elliot ... The hot core of his story, though, is made of the most thrillingly unlikely material.