Albion’s Secret History

In Albion’s Secret History, Guy Mankowski offers what he describes as “snapshots” of those he deems the outsiders of English pop culture. “Snapshots” is certainly an apt term, as the book moves through a wide range of figures at a fast clip: Oscar Wilde, Shelagh Delaney, Syd Barrett, Nick Drake, David Bowie, Ian Curtis, Gary Numan, Paul Weller, Robert Smith, Morrissey, and PJ Harvey to name just a few. Stylistically, Mankowski’s approach to discussing his subject matter echoes that of Greil Marcus in works like Mystery Train: Images of America in Rock ‘n’ Roll Music, Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of 20th Century America, and The History of Rock ‘n’ Roll in Ten Songs. What emerges is a dreamlike parade of personalities whose efforts to speak their own minds, follow their own muses, and be what we might call in contemporary parlance their “authentic selves” reflect a larger, arguably unconscious, yearning within English culture to break free from otherwise stifling social norms and, in so doing, to steer English history into uncharted waters. This struggle comes to fruition in the book’s final chapter when Mankowski turns his attention to contemporary English political figures whose antics, for lack of a better word, bring to life (and to light) many of the tensions the author has described throughout the volume.

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