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The Condition of the Working Class in England [Paperback]

Friedrich Engels , Tristram Hunt
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
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Book Description

7 May 2009
Written when Engels was only twenty-four, and inspired in particular by his time living amongst the poor in Manchester, this forceful polemic explores the staggering human cost of the Industrial Revolution in Victorian England. Engels paints an unforgettable picture of daily life in the new industrial towns, and for miners and agricultural workers--depicting overcrowded housing, abject poverty, child labour, sexual exploitation, dirt and drunkenness--in a savage indictment of the greed of the bourgeoisie. His fascinating later preface, written for the first English edition of 1892 and included here, brought the story up to date in the light of forty years' further refelection. A masterpiece of committed reporting and an impassioned call to arms, this is one of the great pioneering works of social history.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics (7 May 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141191104
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141191102
  • Product Dimensions: 1.9 x 13 x 19.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 255,098 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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"This is a very nicely-produced edition at a price practical for course use. David McClellan's introduction is clear and useful."--J. Boyden, Tulane University --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Friedrich Engels was born in Germany in 1820, the son of a textile manufacturer. After his military training in Berlin he became Manchester agent of his father's business, and soon became immersed in the problems of the urban proletariat newly created by the industrial revolution. In 1844 he wrote this famous book and by 1848 he was a firm friend of Marx. Their ideas were incorporated into The Communist Manifesto, although the writing of the Manifesto itself was solely Marx's work. Engels provided Marx with money, and after 1870 spent all his time assisting him in his research and in supplying ideas and leadership to international socialism. After Marx's death Engels continued to work on Das Kapital, and completed it in 1894, a year before his own death. He also wrote The Peasant War in Germany, The Origin of the Family, Socialism, Utopianism and Scientific, and much else.

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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
4.6 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Friedrich Engels' classic "The Condition of the Working Class in England" was written when he was only twenty-four, and had but recently abandoned his Calvinist upbringing for a more critical, socialist, point of view. Yet this book reads as if it were written by an experienced political commentator or a radical sociologist, without actually at any point becoming melodramatic or dense.

Engels' main purpose is to confront the bourgeoisie with the reality of their mode of production and to contrast this with the rhetoric of "free choice" and "civil liberties", as well as the capitalist apologia of the political economists of his day, in particular Andrew Ure. With great insight into both the causes and effects of the capitalist system, Engels catalogues the endless want, filth, despair and misery experienced by millions of labourers every day in 19th century England. He pays attention to housing, to factory safety, to unionism, to the physical condition of the workers, to alcoholism, the state of the Irish underclass, to prostitution and disease; in short, all the ills attendant on industrialization.

What gives this book such power is that Engels on the one hand proceeds in an analytical manner, making use above all of sources from the bourgeoisie itself and from Parliamentary reports, in explaining the functioning of the capitalist system and the competition between capitalists and between labourers. On the other hand, he writes in a particularly readable manner and at no point bores the reader with the mere summing-up of statistics.
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25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, impassioned reporting 12 Mar 2004
This book is interesting as an historical peice of journalism and scientific investigation. It is equally interesting because it provides such a fascinating insight into the lives of ordinary, working class people living in and around Manchester, Stockport and Stoke in the mid-Nineteenth Century.
It's often cited in modern discussions of complex systems as the book also gives an idea of the interactions between social, political and economic factors and their results in the real world. The origins of these much more modern ideas, how social and economic conditions interact, taking the holistic view etc. are all visible here.
It gives some ideas of what Engels must have been like and his compassion for the suffering of the people described is clear throughout the book.
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52 of 55 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
This was the first book written to describe the lives of the working people in Victorian Britain. It paints a shocking picture of poverty, exploitation and the utter despair of the working class as they work themselves slowly to death without any reward, in a society where those in power do everything they can to make as much profit from the workers while denying them the most basic principles of human rights and dignity.
I had always been aware that Victorian Britain was well known for the poverty of its masses, but nothing prepared me for the detailed, horrifying descriptions of living and working conditions, starvation, disease and a stagnant existence of poverty in which there was literally no way out of except suicide.
For all its justified power, I do feel that Engels does tend to drift from being a critical and detatched observer in favour of spectacular tirades championing the case of the working class. Though this is clearly understandable as a result of what he saw and experienced in the numerous cities of England and Scotland in the twenty-two months he spent in Britian for the material of the book.
The first book to give the working class a voice in a society which entirely suppressed it, and a damning study of the cruel and exploitative nature of capitalism, which proves to be as relevant now (with the imergance of globalisation) as it was when first written in 1844.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Engels` classic of social history 22 Jun 2009
Engels wrote this book between late 1842 and early 1845. While still in his very early 20s, he had already written extensively as a journalist for both English and German newspapers. At the time, England was undergoing significant political and economic changes - the Chartist movement was pushing, inter alia, for universal suffrage and the country was just coming out of a deep slump in economic activity, which had lasted from 1837 to 1842. Meanwhile the country was undergoing a massive wave of industrialisation that would see it soon become "the workshop of the world". Engels had moved to Manchester at the behest of his father to learn to be a businessman and Engels used the opportunity to write a report for his fellow radicals in Germany on the state of the working class given the massive upheavals taking place - a sort of prior warning what to expect should industrialisation take place in Germany - the original was published in German and an English version would only be released in 1886 for an American audience.
Engels vividly describes the working and living conditions of the working class predominantly, although not only, in Manchester, and links this to the economic developments taking place. This is based on researching Factories Inspectors reports - a method that was to be copied by Marx in Volume 1 of "Capital" and contemporary newspaper articles as well as his own eyewitness reports garnered by walking around the affected areas and interviewing locals. It is a very professional and accomplished work of investigative social reporting, and no less than UNESCO has included it on its list of most influential works of sociology.
There is no 'call to arms' here in this book - this is still to wait until "The Communist Manifesto" in 1848 but there are shades of "A specter is haunting Europe" particularly in the final chapter.
Marx was to compliment Engels long after for its passion and incisiveness. It is a classic of its times.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Vital history which should serve to today advocate for better...
I must say upfront I detest Marxist-Leninism in its 20th century form and the post-modern left with their support for terrorism, Islamism , Jew/Israel-hatred, dictatorship and... Read more
Published 9 days ago by Gary Selikow
5.0 out of 5 stars Victorian Values
Don't be put off by the academic appearance of this book. It is very readable and in fact is as relevant today as when it was written. Read more
Published 28 days ago by Neilybags
4.0 out of 5 stars The Destitution of the Victorian Masses
In 1842, Friedrich Engels was sent by his father to Manchester, England. It was hoped a short apprenticeship in the family-owned Ermen & Engels mill would cure Engels of his... Read more
Published 2 months ago by s k
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent
Great book, if you like this kind of reading then this is the book for you! Good story as well, as a great author!
Published 9 months ago by P. Callaghan
4.0 out of 5 stars Had heard of Engles but had never read anything of his.
What an eye opener of a book which was written over a hundred years ago. Our politians should read it! Many of the problems and condition of peoples lives are still going on NOW. Read more
Published 11 months ago by Mrs. A. F. Harris
5.0 out of 5 stars An english focused expose an oppressive working conditions in...
An english focused expose an oppressive working conditions in victorian britain! I go as far as saying that it may be Freidrick Engels personal version of the communist manifesto. Read more
Published 11 months ago by S
5.0 out of 5 stars Real History
Fantastic reporting from a young man on factories and conditions of operatives. He also investigated living conditions and health matters. Read more
Published 11 months ago by Mrs Lofts
5.0 out of 5 stars If societal history or capitalism is your bag then you wont put it...
Easy read through the industrial 1800's , explaining how the capitalist ruled every aspect of a persons life. Read more
Published 18 months ago by Ronald John Price
1.0 out of 5 stars Dubious Facts?
Of course this book is a must for students of economic, political and social history describing, as it does, the barbaric conditions to which the working classes were consigned. Read more
Published 18 months ago by Random Musings
5.0 out of 5 stars The condition of the working class in England
A must for anyone who wants to know about the roots of the British Labour movement. The reasons why it came about and indeed why it is declining so rapidly in this high... Read more
Published on 26 Jun 2012 by Egil Lagin
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