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Product details

  • Hardcover: 848 pages
  • Publisher: Victor Gollancz Ltd.; FIRST edition (1965)
  • ASIN: B0006D7JSW
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,261,417 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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67 of 70 people found the following review helpful By conjunction on 1 Feb 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
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'.
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57 of 60 people found the following review helpful By "mattwilso" on 18 July 2003
Format: Paperback
I had two major preconceptions which this book has reduced to rubble. The first was that social history was boring; the second was that all working class movements were (disappointingly) lead or supported by the middle-classes, and once the middle-classes got what they wanted and put the brakes on the movements they led the workers collapsed. This led me to view the working class (from which I spring) as pliant, disordered and whimsical. However, this book has taught me: social history is not boring; and the working classes are not feckless, whimsical and slavish (at least not a majority at that time). This is the story of a whole way of life for the lower swathe of society being slowly and calculatedly ripped limb from limb then stitched back together by and for people who found it profitable for themselves to do so. However, the process was not acted on passive beings; hearteningly, the people upon whom some of the cruellest (sustained and systematic) acts in history (before the 20th Century) were perpetrated on fought back, and did a good deal to frustrate the aims of Authority. There was heroic resistance and a great deal of this resistance was led by the working classes themselves. The resisitance, by its nature, also developed political consciousnes, political involvement, and an admirable way of life that seems to have left this country now - returning home from work (12 - 14 hours in those days) and educating yourself. The story is well told, although admittedly it starts slowly and for those who have no interest in statistics they will find a few dull patches. Nevertheless, it is a vital, fascinating and inspiring work. We seldom hear of this period of history in ways other than 'the Nasty Bonaparte' and 'Hero Wellington'.Read more ›
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By dannydiddle on 29 Jun 2010
Format: Paperback
The study of history has been through a number of fashions since the end of the Second World War. Marxism, more traditional Whig approaches and post-structuralism have all been among the most influential in how historians approach their discipline. But one name stands out when postwar social history is discussed: E. P. Thompson.

It is true that Thompson displayed support for Marxist ideas and was a member of the CPGB until 1956. However, his theories on the development of social class are far from doctrinaire. Whereas Althusser in France was developing a much more structuralist approach to class, Thompson believed that working-class agency lay at the heart of the development of working-class culture and politics. The prefaces outline this approach very clearly and are, for me at least, some of the most important parts of this book. He also looks at traditional forms of radicalism and saw in England the continuation of these as the working class developed and bonded together to face the new world of industrialisation. This is reflected in other works by Thompson where what was seen as corruption in government was often the source of discontent rather than the lack of democracy. However, both added up to the same thing for radicals: the need for a political system much more open to widespread participation. Traditional forms of discontent, such as rioting, were also maintained and helped to demonstrate that the working class were not just victims of structural changes to England's economy and society.

In 'The making of the English working class', Thompson also pays homage to the role of religion in working-class life demonstrating that Thompson is aware of how rich and vibrant the working-class experience was.
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