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Those currently working for the probation service in England and Wales are likely to be well accustomed, even numb, to a feeling of foreboding about what the future might hold. For anyone wanting to contextualise the current situation, I can think of no better way than reading George Mair and Lol Burke’s excellent history of probation. The book allows its reader to understand how probation has arrived at the present, equipping them to make grounded contributions to current debates about the future. What these authors do particularly skilfully is provide a detailed linear history of probation’s genesis, whilst also weaving in the themes that have recurred throughout the last century. A sense of crisis, and of an organisation distrusted by government and grappling to define its own core purpose, may seem to be exclusively modern, but reading this history it becomes clear that current struggles have their roots in previous decades. In charting the highs and lows of probation’s history a new vantage point is offered; many of the strengths and challenges of the service can be seen as a product of the friction, sometimes creative, sometimes destructive, between a social work ethos and a criminal justice context.