The Making of the English Working Class

by E. P. Thompson

Paperback, 1966


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."  … (more)



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Vintage (1966), 864 pages

User reviews

LibraryThing member the.ken.petersen
You know how sometimes, reading a book changes one's view of life? Perhaps, it would be more accurate to say that it alters one's perspective. Whichever, this is one of those books.

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
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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!
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LibraryThing member rivkat
Like a fair amount of academic history, especially older academic history, assumes you know an awful lot going in (e.g., what was the event known as Peterloo?). But a lot of interesting details about the lifeways of the English working class, with emphasis on how what we know is limited because
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many of the people involved left no records, some deliberately and some because their lives didn’t allow for it, while the records we do have were made by people with very different perspectives from that of most workers. Favorite tidbit: after a Luddite raid on a mill, two raiders were captured alive and probably tortured for information about their compatriots. A clergyman aligned with the ruling class exhorted a 19-year-old to confess. “Can you keep a secret?” he asked. “Yes, yes,” the clergyman said, leaning forward eagerly. “So can I,” he said, and died.
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LibraryThing member DLPatterson
I remain haunted by the handloom weavers. Explains why Methodism, the religion in which I was raised, is a religion of the oppressors. (Aren't the all?) Down with John Wesley!
LibraryThing member seabear
To begin with, I didn't finish the book. Nor am I a qualified person to judge it. I felt it was a little rambling and preoccupied. The criticism of how statistics were misused by other historians seems like it would be better suited to a shorter form. There were very interesting sweeping
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statements, which I liked and wanted to believe. But the arguments presented in support struck me as whimsical--flimsy. Maybe another day, when I know more, I can appreciate it. It is evidently a classic, so I must be missing something.
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LibraryThing member gmicksmith
In this Marxist magnum opus Thompson illustrates the making of the English working class. It may be that the period of from 1780 to 1832 for the working class will be covered more definitively some day but Thompson remains the standard account until then.
LibraryThing member j_wendel_cox
The most important work of history in the English language in the twentieth century.


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