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Common People: The History of An English Family [Kindle Edition]

Alison Light
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Shortlisted for the 2014 Samuel Johnson Prize



'A remarkable achievement...should become a classic.' - Margaret Drabble



'Light writes beautifully...Common People is part memoir, part thrilling social history of the England of the Industrial Revolution, but above all a work of quiet poetry and insight into human behaviour. It is full of wisdom.' - The Times Book of the Week



Family history is a massive phenomenon of our times but what are we after when we go in search of our ancestors? Beginning with her grandparents, Alison Light moves between the present and the past, in an extraordinary series of journeys over two centuries, across Britain and beyond.



Epic in scope and deep in feeling, Common People is a family history but also a new kind of public history, following the lives of the migrants who travelled the country looking for work. Original and eloquent, it is a timely rethinking of who the English were - but ultimately it reflects on history itself, and on our constant need to know who went before us and what we owe them.



Product Description

Review

An exploration of an English family tree the like of which has never been made before. (Claire Tomalin)

[A] short and beautifully written meditation on family and mobility. (the Independent)

Light writes beautifully. With such colour and with perception and lyricism she clads the past....Common People is part memoir, part thrilling social history of the England of the Industrial Revolution, but above all a work of quiet poetry and insight into human behaviour. It is full of wisdom. (Melanie Reid The Times Book of the Week)

Intellectually sound and relevant...a refreshingly modern way of thinking about our past. (New Statesman)

This book is a substantial achievement: its combination of scholarship and intelligence is, you may well think, the best monument you could have to all those she has rescued from time's oblivion. (Financial Times)

Light [is skilled] in probing dark corners of her ancestry and exposing their historical meaning...packed with humanity. (Sunday Times)

Exquisite...Barely a page goes by without something fascinating on it, betraying Light's skill in winkling out the most relevant or moving aspects of her antecedents' lives, which echo through the generations. (the Independent on Sunday)

Evocatively written...a thrilling and unnerving read (The Observer)

Intelligent...admirably organised...deeply absorbing. (The Spectator)

Alison Light's excellent and humane exploration of her family tree...confirms her as the pre-eminent exponent of a new kind of public family history. (Evening Standard)

Extraordinary...Family history, thanks to the internet, has become a hugely popular pastime. "Common People", with its fine sense of nuance, raises the game for everyone. (The Economist)

This is by turns mesmeric and deeply moving: a poetic excavation of the very meaning of history (Daily Telegraph)

A deeply researched and fascinating double story...Light hopes the books will encourage others two write their family history as public history, a feat she pulls off brilliantly. It is a hard act to follow. (Sunday Telegraph)

Common People is not costume drama but the real thing - dirty, tragic but joyous, too. (Mail on Sunday)

Beautifully written and exhaustively researched, Alison Light makes her family speak for England. (Jerry White, author of London in the Eighteenth Century)

A remarkable achievement...should become a classic. (Margaret Drabble)

About the Author

Alison Light is a writer and critic who is also currently a Visiting Professor of Modern English Literature and Culture at Newcastle University and at Sheffield Hallam University. She was born in Portsmouth, read English at Churchill College, Cambridge and was awarded a D.Phil. from Sussex University. She has worked at the BBC, in adult education, and also lectured at Royal Holloway College and University College London University. She spent several years establishing the Raphael Samuel History Centre in London. She writes regularly for the press, and also frequently broadcasts on BBC radio and on television. Her last book was the much-acclaimed Mrs Woolf and the Servants.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 7367 KB
  • Print Length: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Fig Tree (9 Oct. 2014)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00K6Y0HI0
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #14,732 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
36 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A look at the "real" English... 26 Oct. 2014
By Jill Meyer TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I suppose when we go delving into our family histories, we hope to find the odd billionaire, a pirate, a famous actor or, at least, someone "interesting". Interesting and rich is a good combination. But most of us, like British author Alison Light, find solid citizens who live fairly quiet lives, passing along from one generation to another. A "family" that is actually a combination of tree limbs that come together to make one individual. We are a combination of all those who came before us. Alison Light, in her thoughtful book, "Common People", gives us brief histories of her forebears.

Light's ancestors really were "common people". Not an earl or pirate or rich guy among them. Most were economically of the working class (or sometimes lower in bad times), while some made inroads into the British middle class. Her "people", on both maternal and paternal sides, rode the wave of the economies of Victorian and 20th century England. Coming from Ireland, Wales, Birmingham, Portsmouth,and rural areas in southern England, they were often tossed in times of economic and societal need. Large families regularly lost members - young and old - to tuberculosis and other diseases that were particularly pernicious in the slums the families often lived in. Other family members spent time in "work houses", institutions for the real needy. Others died forgotten in the crude mental hospitals of the times. A few left for Australia - usually as penal deportees - but most spent their lives moving around the areas I've listed above. Curiously, no one seemed to end up in London.

Alison Light's extended family - from four or five generations back - really is the story of Britain and the affects of the Industrial Revolution. Her writing is always light and she tells the story of her people in almost a fictional way. But, her people were real, as are their stories. This is a really good book.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover
I have to say I was wary of this book at first. I thought it would be just a middle-aged academic exploring their personal history and getting sanctimonious about their working-class roots, 'I was born in a cardboard box' as Monty Python would have it. I was completely won over when reading it, a really good meditation not just on the author's own history but on the kind of processes that go into imagining the past. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Format:Kindle Edition
For anyone researching and writing their own family`s history this book will be a wonderful source of new ideas and information. As well as providing a compelling narrative it stimulates your own thoughts on `what might have been`. The quality of the writing is excellent, and the historical contexts of the characters are based on sound research. Genuinely the family history I wish could have written.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another Portsmouth girl's view. 31 Jan. 2015
By Yvonne
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Wonderful book and superbly written. This lady has a great feel for the English language and the research into the subject was impeccable and must have been hard work. The book was particularly interesting to me as I am also a Portsmouth born girl and have also researched my family. Some of her family names rang bells with me although I couldn't find a definite connection but it did make the book even more interesting to me, it has also rearoused my interest in genealogy so , thank you Alison Light for a book I will be dipping into for a long time to come. I have just one adverse comment, the graphics were very poor and difficult to see but I suppose I am just nit picking.

The picture is my Great Grandmother on the right, outside her home in Glasgow Road, Eastney , probably taken prior to 1942
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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How the author's Victorian ancestors lived 24 Oct. 2014
By Peter Durward Harris #1 HALL OF FAME TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
The author had very little information about her ancestors before deciding to find out what she could and write a book about them. Even her grandparents were a bit of a mystery, as she realized that she didn't learn a lot about their early life, and some of what she had been told might not be accurate. She had no doubt read about people finding noble ancestors a few generations back (as my father did) but she did not find any and warns people against expecting too much. We are all related somehow, but records for common people don't usually go back very far; if they did, we'd likely find that everybody has royal ancestors.

So this book is largely limited to discussion of the author's Victorian ancestors, with a few earlier ancestors getting mentioned if she has been able to identify them with interesting information. The result is a fascinating study of life in Victorian England. Although she clearly has Irish ancestors, she has no information about their lives before they arrived in England. Fair enough.

The saddest case has to be Sarah Hill, who was born while her mother was in a workhouse. Her father is unknown and her mother died less than a year later. A few years later, her grandmother took her away and placed her with another relative. Sarah eventually got married and had three children, one of them becoming the author's maternal grandmother. However, something (or a series of things) happened to cause Sarah to be sent to an asylum, where she died soon afterwards at age 53.

There are many other interesting stories, some of them also involving hardship. I wasn't sure what to expect when I bought this book, but I really enjoyed it.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Like the parson's egg - good in parts. Great if you know Alcester
Published 3 days ago by Margaret Kingsley
3.0 out of 5 stars Failrly good at the beginning and has some ineresting events
Failrly good at the beginning and has some ineresting events, but gets a little boring as you read on
Published 20 days ago by pinnie
5.0 out of 5 stars Great insight into family history
Extremely readable account of family tree research. More than merely baptisms, marriages and burials but an account of the social climate as well. Excellent read.
Published 1 month ago by Fred
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting Book!
Bought this for my wife. it included places that she knew eg Portsmouth and she liked the detail of everyday life rather than the Family tree (who was related to whom etc)
Published 1 month ago by D. H. Rose
5.0 out of 5 stars Good in parts
I think the reviews are over-blown. The book is interesting n parts, but observations nothing special, I do not think it is written better than most family histories , which... Read more
Published 1 month ago by plodder
4.0 out of 5 stars An personal investigation into family history of ordinary working...
A personal investigation into family history of ordinary working class families. Superbly written and frighteningly resonant of what we could return to through the dismantling of... Read more
Published 1 month ago by James T
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
OK Read
Published 2 months ago by P. E. Beard
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating and compelling
This is an exceptionally insightful and superbly written account of one family's history. It works on several levels: as a series of interlocking, richly detailed,... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Nell Salter
5.0 out of 5 stars Thoroughly Enjoyable
I received this book for Christmas, a good choice as I too have family from Portsmouth, Wiltshire and Birmingham so it was of particular interest to me. Read more
Published 3 months ago by John Howarth-brown
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Entirely satisfactory
Published 3 months ago by Stephen Kleiser
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