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Estates: An Intimate History [Paperback]

Lynsey Hanley
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
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Book Description

7 Jan 2008
Lynsey Hanley was born and raised just outside of Birmingham on what was then the largest council estate in Europe, and she has lived for years on an estate in London's East End. Writing with passion, humour and a sense of history, she recounts the rise of social housing a century ago, its adoption as a fundamental right by leaders of the social welfare state in mid-century and its decline - as both idea and reality - in the 1960s and 70s. Throughout, Hanley focuses on how shifting trends in urban planning and changing government policies - from 'Homes Fit for Heroes' to Le Corbusier's concrete tower blocks, to the 'Right to Buy' - affected those so often left out of the argument over council estates: the millions of people who live on them. What emerges is a vivid mix of memoir and social history, an engaging and illuminating book about a corner of society that the rest of Britain has left in the dark.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Granta Books; Reprint edition (7 Jan 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1862079854
  • ISBN-13: 978-1862079854
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 267,653 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Lynsey Hanley was born in Birmingham in 1976 and moved to London to study in 1994. Her first book, Estates: an Intimate History, was published by Granta Books in January 2007. She has written an introduction to the Penguin Modern Classics edition of Richard Hoggart's 1957 book The Uses of Literacy, and is currently working on her second book.

She contributes commentary pieces, arts features and book reviews to The Guardian and the New Statesman, and has written for The Observer, the Times Literary Supplement, Prospect, RSA Journal, the Daily Telegraph, the Sunday Telegraph, and the Sunday Times. She has appeared on BBC2's Newsnight; BBC Radio 4's Start The Week, Analysis, and The World at One; BBC Radio 3's Night Waves and Sunday Feature; BBC Radio Five Live, BBC Radio London and Resonance FM.In November 2010 she wrote and presented Wall in the Mind, a series of three programmes about class and social mobility, for BBC Radio 4.

Her main areas of interest are social class; economic, social and spatial segregation; the British education system; public policy; built-up areas; mass media and popular culture. Through these themes she tries to examine how individuals interact with their physical, cultural and social environments. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.

Product Description


* "A rich, thought-provoking book" Observer* "Estates, a journey through the world of British social housing, is both a history and a personal reckoning" Financial Times* "A wonderful book ... explains with verve and insight how one's mental landscape is moulded by physical environment ... Simple lessons for planners, architects and developers leap off the pages " Guardian

About the Author

Lynsey Hanley was born in Birmingham and lives in London. She writes regularly for the Observer, Telegraph, New Statesman and many others. This is her first book.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars eye-opening for me 7 Dec 2010
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
As a foreigner living, working and studying in the UK in mostly well-to-do circles, my limited one-sided understanding of council estates before reading this book was that, the people living in there were lazy, that they rely on state benefits, watch TV all day and are leeches of the society.

This book has really opened my eyes about the circumstances people living on estates found themselves to be in, and made it clear that while individuals have responsibilities of their lives, their environment can trap them in and make it extremely hard to get out, and that pure meritocracy is a lie.

I found out about this book from a research project on the media portrayal of 'chavs' and this book provided a really good background. I recommend it to anyone doing research on Britain's underclass. I also recommend it to anyone holding prejudice against people living on estates. It's easy to fear and hold prejudices against something you don't know, and some understanding can help with that.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It wasn't meant to be like this ... 7 Jun 2010
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Mention council estates to many British people and they're more likely to think of dysfunctional communities than "homes fit for heroes".

During the 20th century, public housing was meant to eradicate slums, deflect revolution, improve the health of the nation and eliminate social inequality. So what went wrong - and can it be put right?

Lynsey Hanley addresses these questions in this fascinating and often passionate account of a century of policy, ideology, greed and incompetence. What gives the book its edge, though, is the intermingling of formal history with the first hand experiences of Hanley and four generations of her family.

My only criticism is that the author doesn't really look the development of council housing in rural areas and small towns; but perhaps that's another story.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
For me personally, a university student who grew up in a council estate, to read a book which was both academic and personal was refreshing. Lynsey Hanley uses her own experience growing up on an estate in Birmingham to describe the social problems that exist our estates today. More importantly she reveals our views as a nation to social housing, unveiling deeper issues of class in the UK.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I found the most interesting argument in her book was her description of `walls in the head' that culturally there are barriers between the working and underclass and the middle-classes. Myself I have experience these walls, and I found her personal account very reminiscent of my own experiences. I think this would also be an interesting read for anyone who have never been to a council estate to learn more about public housing in the UK.
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21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars You do need to read this. 27 Mar 2007
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This is an important book which illuminates the lie of the New Labour meritocracy deal - in short, how can one aspire to a better lifestyle when conditions conspire to make you unaware that anything better might exist, and simultaneously rob you of any opportunity to succeed?

In my time I've lived and taught on sink estates, and if anything Hanley understates the case - I've worked with kids in The North East who at 18 had never been further than the end of the street, and moreover didn't feel any urge to. Hanley captures this well with her 'wall' metaphor.

However, worthy as it is, the mix of personal history, invective and evidence that Hanley presents is indigestible - she isn't really readable. Not the point, of course, but still so.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Social History par excellence 9 April 2009
A fascinating trawl through the history of social housing provision in the UK since the construction of the historic Boundary Estate in Bethnal Green in 1893. Hanley's account really comes to life in the book's pivotal chapter, "Slums in the Sky" with shocking tales of corner cutting and well meaning modernism. Erno Goldfinger - rehabilitated in some quarters in recent years - is firmly back in the Naughty Seat although a one bedroom apartment in his Trellick Tower will still set you back over 400,000.

The book is polemical and comes across as more passionate as a result. The Conservative administration of Harold Macmillan is blamed for many of the ills. The book could perhaps have done with a little more international material - "La Haine" and Chicago's Cabrini Green are mentioned and it is crying out for an index, but overall, this is essential reading. Hanley's most interesting question revolves around the stigma of council housing - why are we embarrassed to have our homes provided for by the state when there is no such outcast status associated with free education or health? That Mrs. Thatcher was a great brainwasher.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An insight into Council Estate Living 15 May 2009
By J. Wood
Gives an insight into the author's experiences of living on council estates. Also provides details of the historical origins of council houses, the more recent sales of properties to tenants, and the wholesale transfers to registered social landlords. Plenty to think about, for example in 1979 almost half the UK population lived in council properties, and the income gap between rich and poor was at it's narrowest ever. 99.9% of the book is well written, just 3 or 4 paragraphs that I had trouble with.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars You gotta go there to come back 1 Sep 2007
This is a fascinating view of life on council estates. Lynsey Hanley grew up on a vast estate in Birmingham, and now lives in Tower Hamlets. (It appears that part of her motivation for staying in the Tower Hamlets estate is to become an agent of change.) Her key arguments are:
-There is a common view that most people who live on Council estates are by nature anti-social. She argues that the condition of many estates is a factor encouraging anti-social behaviour. If you have been dumped in sub-standard housing on the edge of town, what motivation do you have to be a model citizen?
-Public housing is not necessarily bad. Some other European countries achieve a better standard than the UK. (However, she overlooks the banlieux of Paris, which manage to achieve racial ghettos as effectively as anywhere in this country.)
-Generally council houses are better to live in than council flats
-Architects and planners are past masters at producing award-winning monstrosities which they themselves would not live in (other than as a publicity stunt)
[These last two are not new views and are definitely not rocket science. However, it does absolutely no harm to emphasise them.]

The strongest metaphor in the book is "the wall in the head", which was originally used to describe the cultural conflict between East and West Germans long after the Berlin Wall disappeared.

There is an extensive explanation of how the provision of municipal housing paralleled the rise and fall of the Welfare State overall.

A challenging view, which makes you question your assumptions as to why council estates are the way they are.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Potted history of social housing
A declaration of interest first, like Lynsey Hanley I grew up on a council estate, and unlike the author I have actually studied social housing history at college. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Lendrick
5.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable
Fun and enjoyable, self mocking read looking at council estates. particularly interesting for those researching or with interest in Birmingham.
Published 12 months ago by RC
4.0 out of 5 stars Thought provoking and very readable
I'm not sure what attracted me to this book in the first place, and I don't usually choose a non-fiction book for bedtime reading. Read more
Published 16 months ago by Ali C
4.0 out of 5 stars Intimate, or inanimate?
Well written, well researched book, passionately delivered by the author. This book answers questions, is enlightening and should be in libraries up and down the country and... Read more
Published 18 months ago by TrueBrit
4.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating and highly readable insight into the social housing...
I was recommended this book by a friend after extolling the virtues of Owen Jones' Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class. Read more
Published 19 months ago by marge
1.0 out of 5 stars Narcissistic, greedy and self centred rubbish
I want to state bluntly that I HATE what this author represents and the way she has expressed her views is weak. Read more
Published 20 months ago by Lauren
1.0 out of 5 stars Estate: An Intimate History
Can't comment on the whole book as I gave up after a few chapters. If your idea of fun is reading a description of every street and house on a particular estate then go ahead.
Published 20 months ago by judith bywater
5.0 out of 5 stars The inevitable in pursuit of the insoluble
This is an important book about the state we're in. If the reader is left wondering how it all happened at the end, this isn't really Lynsey Hanley's fault. Read more
Published on 7 Mar 2012 by Peter Street
I enjoyed Lynsey Hanley's social history of the council estate in modern Britain,and agreed with much that she said. Read more
Published on 26 Feb 2012 by bibliophile
5.0 out of 5 stars social history
I use this book teaching my course to undergraduates at university, but its aimed at the informed general reader. Read more
Published on 10 Aug 2011 by P. S. R. Munt
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