Reviews: 1974 – Scenes From a Year of Crisis

1974: Scenes From a Year of Crisis,
Nick Rennison,
Published Oldcastle Books (Nov 2023)

Rennison is a well-known name – an influential bookseller, commentator on the publishing industry, and author of numerous titles. This, his latest, is a pleasing book constructed in a manner that makes it easy to just dip into when you have the reading time. The structure is simple and efficient – Rennison takes us through a selection of global events that occured throughout the year 1974, month by month, starting with the first of January – with New Year’s Day officially becoming a bank holiday in the rest of the UK (Scotland already marked it as a holiday).

We proceed throughout the months of 1974, with Rennison picking out quite a variety of events and occassions – this takes in everything from high politics to crime, disasters, economic slumps, and entertainment to sport. So we have the tumult of the swinging back and forth between Heath and Wilson, as the UK governments fall and repeat elections take place, against the backdrop of power cuts, mass strikes and the infamous three day week, while across the Atlantic, Nixon is finally forced to resign the presidency (and is pardoned just a few weeks later by his replacement, Ford).

We have the still-imfanous case of the disappearance of Lord Lucan, the travesty and tragedy of the IRA mainland bombings and the botched arrests and trials which saw innocent people locked away for years, and in France, George Pompidou passes away while still in office, the famous gallery in Paris being named in his honour later on.

But the book also takes in many other events around the world, from a devastating hurricane which shattered the Australian city of Darwin, to a terrible train disaster in Zagreb, Kidnapped heiress Patty Hearst holding up a bank with her own former captors, Ali and Foreman facing off against one another for the famous “Rumble in the Jungle” boxing match, and Evel Knievel attempting his rocket-powered bike keap over a canyon. There’s the discovery of the astonishing Terracotta Army, and Japanese officer Hiroo Onoda finally accepting WWII was over and surrendering (see my review of the film of this story, 10, 000 Nights in the Jungle here on the blog).

These are all quite short pieces – as Rennison notes himself, it is not a deep-dive into history, it is, as the subtitle of the book infers, scenes from that year, plucked out and present month by month, rather than a heavy history book attempting to evaluate the impact of those various events on how the world developed. But while more detail would be nice, to be fair, that is not what this book is about – it is to give a flavour of that now long-ago year, of the wide variety of events and people that shaped it (and so helped shape the following decades).

It’s ideal for dipping into for a quick read when you have the free time, and would make a nice gift for quite a few people, given it covers a bit of everything (sports, politics, history, culture and more), and, of course, if anyone does want deeper details on any of the events, perhaps this will inspire them to do further reading. There’s also a simple enjoyment in reading about some of these events, especially for those of us old enough to actually recall some of them happening, where for younger readers it’s a glimpse into a now-vanished world, but one where the events that happened still often resonate today.