The British public school is an iconic institution, a training ground for the ruling elite and a symbol of national identity and tradition. But beyond the elegant architecture and evergreen playing fields is a turbulent history of teenage rebellion, sexual dissidence, and political radicalism. Drawing on personal experience, extensive research, and public school representations in poetry, school slang, spy films, popular novels, and rock music, Brooke-Smith offers a fresh account of upper-class adolescence in Britain and the role of elite private education in shaping youth culture.
For a scholarly study of the British educational system’s upper tier, Gilded Youth is unusually rife with tension. Much of its air of unease is down to an underlying conflict, in this case the stand-off between James Brooke-Smith’s commitment to professional objectivity and the personal prejudice boiling up beneath it ... All this gives these well-researched pages on the theme of public school 'rebellion' an undeniable piquancy ... A glance at Brooke-Smith’s bibliography reveals just how widely he has read in the vast literature of the public school – not least the thousands of boys’ school stories that were set in it. If Gilded Youth has a weakness, it’s the fact that its author seems to imagine that all private schools are the same. But relativism affects the public school system as much as any other part of our national life.
...[an] excellent debut ... Bolstered by the scandal of rebellion and roguery themselves, Gilded Youth is woven through with a sure knack for storytelling and eye for vivifying detail ... Gilded Youth is our author’s own thorough, thoughtful, and articulate rebellion. Brooke-Smith acknowledges that he has 'chosen to be more one-sided' in his writing and indeed his dislike of public schools, one of which he attended for a time, is evident. But for all his bias, dedicated research abounds. His prose flows with material from novels, government reports, memoirs, and more, and 33 pages of partial bibliography tail the volume. Whatever his convictions, the breadth of his knowledge and the earnestness with which he approaches his subject make Gilded Youth a fantastic read that cannot be dismissed.
...[an] entertaining and rather racy history of subversiveness ... The details are glorious and told with relish; this book dwells on the 'privations and idiosyncrasies' of public schools as stimulants to rebellion through the ages.