- Paperback: 864 pages
- Publisher: Vintage (February 12, 1966)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0394703227
- ISBN-13: 978-0394703220
- Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 2.9 x 9.4 inches
- Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #185,370 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Making of the English Working Class
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Thompson's work combines passion and intellect, the gifts of the poet, the narrator and the analyst -- Eric Hobsbawm Independent A dazzling vindication of the lives and aspirations of the then - and now once again - neglected culture of working-class England -- Martin Kettle Observer Superbly readable ... a moving account of the culture of the self-taught in an age of social and intellectual deprivation -- Asa Briggs Financial Times An event not merely in the writing of English history but in the politics of our century -- Michael Foot Times Literary Supplement The greatest of our socialist historians -- Terry Eagleton New Statesman --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From the Inside Flap
"Thompson's book has been called controversial, but perhaps only because so many have forgotten how explosive England was during the Regency and the early reign of Victoria. Without any reservation, The Making of the English Working Class is the most important study of those days since the classic work of the Hammonds."--"Commentary
"Mr. Thompson's deeply human imagination and controlled passion help us to recapture the agonies, heroisms and illusions of the working class as it made itself. No one interested in the history of the English people should fail to read his book."--London "Times Literary Supplement
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Top Customer Reviews
E.P. Thompson's magnum opus is a real classic. No serious student of social history should omit reading it! As a history student, I had read it more than 25 years ago. When I reread large parts of it, recently, I noticed - with the life experience acquired since that time - that the book is an even finer gem than I remembered.
It is clear that the author shows a certain bias in favour of the "losers" of the first Industrial Revolution: the English artisans in the textile trade, who in the late 18th and early 19th century were being reduced to the position of factory workers condemned to work under appalling conditions. But this bias does not substract anything from the worth of this study. On the contrary, such bias, or rather such sympathy towards the groups the author focuses on, is probably necessary to motivate a historian in examining his subject in such detail and writing such a full report about the activities of Jacobites, Luddites, Owenites, Chartists and all the other groups who did not accept the oppressing social and economic order of their time. Of course, such sympathy (or bias) should be kept in check by professional rigour, which is certainly the case in profesor Thompson's magnificent study.
The author persuasively argues that, during the generation between 1815 and 1848, England had come much closer to a Revolution of the kind France had gone through between 1789 and 1794, than the "Whig Interpretation of History" would make us believe.
Some of Thompson's assertions are not beyond dispute. He claims, for instance, that the position of the English poor had definitely deteriorated compared to the 18th century. It has been convincingly shown that their position was already dismal long before the Industrial Revolution started. The historians' dispute over this question is still far from being concluded.
Thompson also puts forward the question how so many Englishmen of that time could have been so callously insensitive towards the suffering of the poor. He blaims it for a good part on Methodism, the creed that tended "to make man his own slave driver". He approvingly cites a late 19th century historian: "A more appalling system of religious terrorism, one more fitted to unhinge a tottering intellect and to darken and embitter a sensitive nature, has seldom existed."'
Before I begin, I would like to state up front that I am not a historian or a graduate student of history. Please forgive me if my review contains incorrect statements.
"The Making of the English Working Class" is precisely what its (awkward) title describes: a history of the developments leading to the emergence of the modern industrial working class in England (and Scotland, sort of. Wales and Ireland are excluded, although Irish immigrants living in England to figure in some parts of the book). The time period covered is roughly the 1790's to the 1840's. Thompson starts with a description of "Dissent", discusses the influence of the French Revolution on that tradition (Dissent), spends a good chunk of the book describing the effect of the industrial revolution on the lives and lifestyles of the workers in industrial England, and then spends an equal amount of time describing the reaction of the workers and their leaders to this adjustment in circumstances.
Along the way, Thompson takes a hatchet to historians on the left, right, and center. His section on the change in circumstances of the workers in England is most critical of writers like F.A. Hayek, i.e. those writers who try to say that the industrial revolution "wasn't that bad" or "wasn't bad at all" for the workers. He devotes a good part of Part II of the book to attacking the methods of statistical or economic history. His preference is to use documentary evidence of the time. In this way, the book (published in the 60's) is a forerunner of historical "postmodernism"(Oh, please forgive me for the term), where authors abandon "objective" evidence (economic statistics) in favor of "subjective" evidence (pamphlets, letters and newspapers).
I guess that's hardly a revolutinary arguement now-a-day, but back then, I can hardly imagine.
His section on the reaction of workers to the industrial revolution is rather more critical to historians of the left and center, who sought to discount the violence associated with the Luddite movement as somehow unrepresentative of the working class movement in England. Thompson's revisionist history of the Luddite movement is a tour de force. Really, it's breathtaking.
In my opinion, the book kind of loses steam after that section. Thompson has some harsh words for the London based "leaders" of the workers movement, and I felt his discussion of Owenism left too much to the readers imagination. I don't suppose this book was meant for someone with only a loose grounding in English history, but none the less, that's what I have, so I'm just stuck.
To the extent that I have anything critical to say about this book, it's that Thompson at times presupposes a graduate level education in English history. I haven't read AJP Taylor or Hayek or any of the other authors Thompson attacks. IN the end, though, I felt like it didn't hurt my enjoyment of this book. I would highly recommend it, although you should set aside a good chunk of time to make your way from beginning to end.