Edinburgh is viewed by many of those who live here and who visit as one of the world's greatest cities: there are even some of us who view it as the world's greatest city, though we may be biassed. What makes Edinburgh so special is the way that layer upon layer of history has left remains that spread out across the surface of some highly complex and three dimensional geography. Wherever you turn in Edinburgh you are greeted by the results of the endeavours of our ancestors, sometimes piled on top of the endeavours of their ancestors.
"Edinburgh in the 1950s: Ten Years that Changed a City" by Jack Gillon, David McLean & Fraser Parkinson looks at the city of Edinburgh during a decade in which, as the authors note in their introduction, Britain changed definitively and dramatically. This was a decade in which post-war rationing gave way to an economic boom, and a decade in which the problems of Edinburgh's appalling slums were finally addressed, though not always in ways that were welcome at the time or appear wise when viewed with hindsight.
This is a surprising book in many ways, and all of them good. It sets out to provide a wide-ranging history of the city during the decade in question, and does so by combining an excellent selection of images with well researched text. The opening chapter, "Changing Face of the City" sets the scene. Here we read that in the two central wards in Edinburgh in 1951, 4,000 people occupied 1,776 single room dwellings; and that only 2,165 households out of 13,810 had a bath. This is a world that is within the memory of many still living in the city, yet which seems almost medieval in terms of quality of life.
The book also brings forcibly home the fact that a large part of what makes today's Edinburgh so special are the various things that were not done to it during the 1950 and 1960s. Even to those well aware that the heart of Glasgow was deeply scarred by a motorway being built around two sides of the city centre, the schemes for a "North Bridge Bypass" and a "Princes Street Bypass" in the very centre of Edinburgh are rather shocking, especially when combined with a plan to make changes to the buildings along Princes Street that were even more radical than those which have taken place over the past half century. This is a wonderful book for all those who love this city.