The Break-Up of Britain

The Break-Up of Britain:Crisis and Neo-Nationalism

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  • Paperback (1981)

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In this classic text, first published in 1977, Tom Nairn memorably depicts the ‘slow foundering’ of the United Kingdom on the rocks of imperial decline, constitutional anachronism and the gathering force of civic nationalism.

Rich in comparisons between the nationalisms of the British Isles and those of the wider world, thoughtful in its treatment of the interaction between nationality and social class, The Break-Up of Britain concludes with a bravura essay on the Janus-faced nature of national identity. Postscripts from the Thatcher and Blair years trace the political strategies whose upshot accelerated the demise of a British state they were intended to serve.

As a second Scottish independence referendum beckons, a new Introduction by Anthony Barnett underlines the book’s enduring relevance.


  • The most forceful and original mind to confront, demask and anatomise the British state. The perception that Great Britain was a multinational state and not a united nation had never quite been lost over the centuries, but it was Tom Nairn who almost single-handedly hammered this truth into the skull of British intellectuals and campaigners until it became – as it is today – practically uncontested by the political class

    Neal Ascherson
  • The Break-Up of Britain is Tom Nairn’s greatest book. A potent and long-lasting challenge

  • Tom Nairn pioneered critical retrospect of the United Kingdom, and scandalised people by looking forward calmly to its disintegration. This in a style of extraordinary vigour and beauty – and not least humour: writing as democratic as his own unswerving politics

    Perry Anderson