Finally finished Dominic Sandbrook’s history of the late 50s and early 60s, Never Had It So Good. For a massive book – 700 pages covering only 7 years – it still feels a bit insubstantial in places, but it was an entertaining read. Sandbrook’s hypothesis is that “the Sixties” wasn’t the storm of change it’s sometimes painted as, but instead represents the acceleration or peak of a series of trends that were evident through the 1950s and in some cases for decades prior to that. This feels ‘right’ – it’s how most history works after all.

Unfortunately if your basic point is that things were less exciting than one might have thought you have a bit of a dilemma when it comes to holding the reader’s attention. Sandbrook is a breezy enough writer to duck this, and his waspish deflating of some of the era’s myths and egos is generally entertaining. He’s also lucky to have a particularly frothy set of primary sources to work with: he can relay the outrageously salacious details of the Keeler scandal as reported in the press, before demolishing them in favour of the boring truth. Even so there are occasions when he spends several pages detailing some popcult phenomena only to end by reminding us that more of the population preferred mowing the lawn or having a cup of tea.

Sandbrook seems at heart to be a political historian, and the most gripping parts of the book are his dissections of the Macmillan government and its travails, particularly the leadership contests which bookend the story. Surrounding these are a series of chapter-length essays on other aspects of the era – these are sound, but tend to read like introductory syntheses with a few jibes thrown in, and Sandbrook is more likely to wander into simple disdain or fandom.

The book’s out in paperback in time for the summer holidays, and would make good beach reading. The second volume, White Heat, takes the story up to 1970 and promises to fill in some of the gaps in this one.