Powell worked in publishing, literary journalism, and the film industry and was awarded an OBE. His first novel, Afternoon Men, a satirical account of the empty lives of a group of London socialites, was published in 1931, but he is best-known for his 12-volume sequence A Dance to the Music of Time (1951–75, televised as a serial in 1997). Dance is narrated by Nicholas Jenkins, a scholarly, detached figure (and, some think, Powell's alter ego) whom we first encounter in A Question of Upbringing (1951). The novels follow Jenkins's effortless progress through public school and university, into art publishing (A Buyer's Market, 1952), the Great Depression (The Acceptance World, 1955), the war, and the literary world.
The main characters are almost entirely upper class, and Powell has been criticized for cataloguing the twentieth century in a limited, élitist way. There is some truth in this, but his novels are marked by an unusually tolerant, easy-going tone, and he manages a huge and realistic cast, delicately handling a wide range of social and political issues from the 1920s to the 1960s. Begin with A Question of Upbringing, but then pick and choose; there is a chronological order, but each novel is self-contained. Move on to the recent Journals (published from 1995) for witty recollections and revelations about writers and contemporaries.
Evelyn Waugh, E. M. Forster, Marcel Proust SR