An extraordinary volume looking at a period (1780-1832) when the manufacturing classes got organised and gradually reduced wages and rationalised production, with the aid of a good deal of machinery. Thompson shows how the increasingly impoverished and alienated working classes, as they gradually came to think of themselves, worked their way through a variety of radical postures, including Jacobinism, dissent and methodism, constitutional reform, and then repressed by the Tory government during the Napoleonic wars went underground and turned up in 1816 more radical and numerous than ever. By this time we have highly organised if localised trade unions, groups and clubs in every neighbourhood studying Cobbett, The Black Dwarf and other radical literature, embracing agitation for universal suffrage and the cooperative ideas of Robert Owen. We also get fascinating pictures of men like Cobbett, Henry Hunt, William Blake and Hazlitt as well as many less well known names and the countless thousands who suffered and struggled in the interests of their class. Thompson also shows how historians who have not done his colossal research have often settled for Whig propaganda about the mindless character of the working class, or the condescension of contemporary historians like Place who wanted to play down the energy and commitment of radical elements.
Above all Thompson for the most part works hard to get a balanced view sometimes from limited information and keeps his tongue in his cheek much of the time. He is witty and cheerful, and the book is full of quotations from original sources. A great read if you want to really understand what was going on when Britain became 'great'.