A history of the common people and the Industrial Revolution: "A true masterpiece" and one of the Modern Library's 100 Best Nonfiction Books of the twentieth century (Tribune). During the formative years of the Industrial Revolution, English workers and artisans claimed a place in society that would shape the following centuries. But the capitalist elite did not form the working class--the workers shaped their own creations, developing a shared identity in the process. Despite their lack of power and the indignity forced upon them by the upper classes, the working class emerged as England's greatest cultural and political force. Crucial to contemporary trends in all aspects of society, at the turn of the nineteenth century, these workers united into the class that we recognize all across the Western world today. E. P. Thompson's magnum opus, The Making of the English Working Class defined early twentieth-century English social and economic history, leading many to consider him Britain's greatest postwar historian. Its publication in 1963 was highly controversial in academia, but the work has become a seminal text on the history of the working class. It remains incredibly relevant to the social and economic issues of current times, with the Guardian saying upon the book's fiftieth anniversary that it "continues to delight and inspire new readers."
The period covered by our tale is largely from 1792 to 1832. A brief overview as to the lie of the land and how we got there prior to this time span is given and an even briefer afterword about the effects upon later history are included, but these crucial forty years are the main target. Every writer, and every reader, has their slant upon history - particularly when it contains a political aspect. E.P. Thompson makes no secret of his position but, at the same time, he tries (and, in my opinion succeeds), in steering a history based passage through a time of great upheaval. This is evidenced by the criticisms which one is able to read of the book: some complain that his left wing bias is too evident whilst others bemoan the loss of an opportunity to write the socialist position more sympathetically. What I particularly like about the work is that it ties historical events, such as the Peterloo Massacre, into a comprehensible continuum and explained why the upper classes, who apparently held all the cards, should hand power to the masses.
When I was a schoolboy, this was explained to me as a philanthropic act of a bunch of chaps who were pretty decent really (the names Cadbury, Lever and Wilberforce being predominant in the proving thereof). This generosity, whilst largely true in the case of the aforementioned, and a few others, never seemed a sufficient explanation. Were this book to be made compulsory reading for every schoolchild in the United Kingdom, a better understanding as to how we got to where we are today might accrue. It is only with this knowledge that we can look to move forward to a better future: was it not one of the great capitalists who said, " Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."?
Even if your grasp on English history is far greater than mine, I would still urge that you read this book; it will not disappoint!