Published in 2022 by Allen Lane Penguin, Richard Vinen's Second City makes a meticulous audit of England's first industrial city. Birmingham's prospects emerged from obscurity after being ignored by Romans, Normans and monarchy, rising to become the country's second largest city largely thanks to a collection of industrialists who emerged from the rotten borough in the mid-19th Century.
Chapter "Motor City" looks into the post-WW2 section of Birmingham's urban growth, ending in 1975 following a period of economic buoyancy and full employment. During this time, the city shifts from embracing its manufacturing backbone towards pointing to office-based, white-collar jobs. This transition was signposted by the national extension of mandatory schooling in 1972 to the age of 16, and parallels the mid-Century American industrial narrative.
In 1955, unemployment was as low as 0.5% in Birmingham, half that of the rest of the UK. The nearly 7,000 unemployed population who were out of work were jobseeking for short periods, finding work in the workshops and largely factories of a resilient labour market.
Other industrialist waypoints include Dunlop, Cadbury and the earlier innovation from Matthew Boulton and his Soho Works community. The role of Joseph Chamberlain provides political representation which was not without its own keen interest in the city's bones and industries that made it.