The esteemed British writer charts what he sees as a decline in Britain since World War II, touching on the decimation of the manufacturing industry, the rise of the banking sector, and other troubling developments.
James Hamilton-Paterson, still one of England’s most skilled and alluring prose writers in or out of fiction, has done something...original. With imaginative scenes enacting ‘what we have lost’, he combines closely researched and detailed accounts of the decay of one legendary British product after another. Cars, motorbikes, shipbuilding and the nuclear industry are all there ... governments encouraged mergers. Many proved disastrous. Hamilton-Paterson is excellent on this. He has a real, critical love of cars, and clearly a passion for motorbikes: his chapter on Triumph and its merger with several other motorbike companies is vivid, knowledgeable and shocking ... Hamilton-Paterson ends What We Have Lost with a marvellously written requiem for British firms and brands now dead or buried under takeovers or lost to the portfolios of foreign-based conglomerates ... Hamilton-Paterson’s grief, his sense of injury and loss, is eloquent.
First ... this book, about the failures of British government and industrial management, inevitably has something of the bitterness and nostalgia of the disappointed expat alongside the broader perspective that distance provides. Second, he writes beautifully ... it is hard to think of an economist who could craft such an elegantly readable account of postwar failure as this ... His book is a lament for the passing of this age of island self-sufficiency. It is also an attempt to understand whether ‘our national collapse’ was inevitable ... This is ultimately a book of advocacy rather than of argument—of nostalgia and regret rather than of comparative analysis and statistics. It is full of examples of lost opportunities and dire decisions, eloquently described.
...engaging and racy ... Yet Hamilton-Paterson wants to have it every way at once, mourning and damning postwar Britain in alternating passages. He spends the book lamenting a supposedly British inability to plan and then, in the final chapter, seems to suggest there is something a bit romantic and scrappy about it after all ... While the book is pacy, the tendency to get sidetracked and leave arguments hanging makes it unsatisfying. Sometimes he seems barely to have room for all his reasons why the country has gone to the dogs ... Hamilton-Paterson’s account of Britain’s industrial decline has a dash of amateurish brilliance. Unfortunately, it has been outclassed by more professional offerings.