Great Britain's relationship with the rest of Europe has long been a politically contentious issue. Yet those who argue that Britain make a mistake in not participating in the formation of the European Economic Community in the years after World War II would profit greatly from reading Alan Milward's superb book. In it he does a brilliant job of detailing Britain's involvement with Western Europe after the war, addressing not just the genesis of the institutions that coalesced into the European Economic Community in 1957, but the stillborn efforts for a unified defense structure as well. His argument about Britain's pursuit of a "national" strategy (his phrase for the vision of a Britain free of extra-Commonwealth economic boundaries) may be controversial, but the evidence he marshals shows how Britain's preference for maintaining the Commonwealth -- a far more economically significant trading group to the British economy in the late 1940s and early 1950s than Europe -- was a sound and understandable one given the circumstances of the time. It was only with Europe's economic boom of the 1950s and the growing encroachment of the U.S. on Britain's Commonwealth markets in the mid-1950s that the British had cause to reconsider, only by then developments had turned against them, ultimately frustrating their first attempt to join in the early 1960s.
Milward relates all of this in a text that, while frequently consumed with the details of innumerable meetings, remains accessible thanks to his powers of explanation and analysis. The result is a book that is required reading for anyone seeking to understand Britain's complex involvement with Europe in the post-war era or the role it played in the development of Europe's supra-national institutions during that period.