The seaside, like football and the railways, is a distinctly English and largely nineteenth century invention. At the Festival of Britain in 1951, a replica of a seafront represented hope and modernity - once the preserve of the sickly elite, the seaside had become one of the great English egalitarian institutions. But when the advent of cheap flights allowed us to go and see how the rest of the world did it - with better weather and sandier beaches - our boarding houses and bandstands slowly rotted away. As the economy forced a reassessment of our holidaying habits, resorts from Morecambe to Bournemouth enjoyed a renaissance. Capitalising on the uniquely English combination of irony and pride, the English Riviera has been reborn. In many ways, our national character has been defined by our relationship with the seaside - and in tracing its development, we can see how our ideas about health, welath and happiness evolved. Our aspirations and snobbery, our attitudes to sex, our keen sense of fair play, our chequered relationship with national pride and our ability to laugh at ourselves have all been played out against a backdrop of stormy skies, pebbly beaches and sticks of rock. The seaside is the place we go to get better, to let our hair down, to downsize, to retire, to take drugs and to hide. Ranging from Agatha Christie to the Prince Regent via Billy Butlin and Brighton Rock, Travis Elborough explores how a coastline peppered with quasi-Oriental piers makes us quintessentially English. Erudite, charming and surprising, Wish You Were Here is a gloriously unorthodox social history of a nation of islanders.