Empire of Democracy: A ‘crucial’ history of the recent past

Book review: Simon Reid-Henry shows citizenship has been reshaped in West since cold war

‘The governments of Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan and others transformed state power to create nations of consumers.’ File photograph: Dirck Halstead/The Life Images Collection via Getty Images

‘The governments of Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan and others transformed state power to create nations of consumers.’ File photograph: Dirck Halstead/The Life Images Collection via Getty Images

“We live in an age of anxiety and time of stress,” Orson Welles tells the camera at the beginning of the 1972 documentary of Alvin and Heidi Toffler’s bestselling Future Shock. Smoking a cigar on a moving travelator at Heathrow Airport, Welles warns that despite “all our sophistication, we are in fact the victims of our own technological strengths”. Western society, the Tofflers argued, was struggling to deal with “too much change in too short a period of time”.

“In the half-decade between 1968 and 1974”, writes Simon Reid-Henry in his ambitious new history of the recent past, “an entire era – the postwar era – came to an end”. Mass protests rocked the system from Prague to Paris, and dictatorships fell in Lisbon, Madrid, and Athens. Demonstrators were shot by their own governments from Derry to Ohio, and the terrorism of the far-right and the far-left became a daily threat to urban life.

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