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The Likes of Us: A Biography of the White Working Class Paperback – 22 Jul 2004

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Product details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Granta Books (22 July 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1862076006
  • ISBN-13: 978-1862076006
  • Product Dimensions: 2.5 x 14.6 x 22.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 422,460 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Michael Collins was born in London in 1961. His journalism has appeared in the Observer, Guardian, Sunday Times, Standard, Telegraph, Vogue, Prospect, Wallpaper, TLS, Literary Review, Independent and the New Statesman. He wrote and presented The British Working Class on Channel 4 and The Great Estate, Everyday Eden for BBC 4. His book The Like of Us was published by Granta and won the 2005 George Orwell Prize.

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Review

'A fascinating, entertaining, personalized and sometimes moving story of the rise and fall of this happy, close-knit breed' -- Time Out

'Collins’s book may inform pre- poll debates.’ -- Boyd Tonkin, The Independent

'THE LIKES OF US, is fresh and fascinating, because it is the story not of a ‘class’ but of individuals.' -- Jonathan Rose, The Daily Telegraph

'The Likes of Us, is fresh and fascinating, because it is the story not of a ‘class’ but of individuals' -- The Daily Telegraph

'This vibrant, inclusive and compelling study crystallises an outrage at judgement from above when supposedly we are all bourgeois now’ -- I-D Magazine

‘As timely as it is compelling...If you want comparisons, think Tom Wolfe and George Orwell’ -- Michael Bracewell

‘Collins’ own memoir of his childhood is vividly written and genuinely interesting...’ -- Evening Standard

‘Thoughtful and provocative, it should be read by any fool eager to dismiss whole swathes of society’ -- GQ Magazine

‘Tremendous, absolutely essential book...lucid, poignant and historically precise...' -- Sunday Times

‘With THE LIKES OF US, Collins becomes an anatomist of England to dwarf almost all others.’ -- Bryan Appleyard, Sunday Times

About the Author

Michael Collins has worked as a journalist, scriptwriter and producer, his television credits including Peter York's Eighties for the BBC, and The National Alf, a look at comedy, culture and the working class as exemplified by the character of Alf Garnett. Since 1998, he has worked as a freelance journalist for The Sunday Telegraph, the Observer, the Guardian and the Independent. He lives in Frinton-on-Sea, Essex.

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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

44 of 48 people found the following review helpful By Gerard Lynch on 10 Mar. 2006
Format: Paperback
Like Michael Collins, I'm another working-white boy who made his way into the professional heartland of the bourgeois-left élite. Like him I get angry at the prejudices of the BBC and the Guardian, not so much towards me, but towards my family, my friends, and the people I went to school with. I enjoyed angrily shouting along with him at the rampaging horde of environmentally-conscious, organic food-eating, inverse racist media trollops who've taken over so much on Inner London. I enjoyed his bitchy putdowns aimed at a class who specialise in the bitchy putdown (for Mr. Collins has a wonderful line in invective). It was a joy to read a book written by and for 'us' for a change.
I enjoyed the in depth trolling through the history of his ancestors in Southwark, his accounts, laced with the right amount of working-class sentimentality, of growing up in the 1970s.
More seriously, I appreciated the way he deconstructed the media-myth of the working-class white as ill-educated, uncouth and prejudiced. London's working-class whites have been at the sharp end of multi-cultural Britain for 60 yeards and, in most cases, have adapted to it and even thrived in it. He lifts the lid not only on the poverty and squalor of life for poor Londoners from Dickens' era onwards, but also exposes the bizarre social experimentation imposed on the British working-class by the bourgeois left in fields from architecture to education, from the 1950s onwards.
And yet, this book could have been so much more.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Simon Barrett 'Il Penseroso' on 14 Nov. 2014
Format: Paperback
'When Mosley's 'blackshirts' marched.. into Bermondsey in 1937 singing 'the Horst Wessel Lied' and the hymn of Mussolini's fascist party, they were confronted by communists singing 'The Red Flag'. But all these voices were drowned by the collective renditions of 'Rule Britannia' and 'Land of Hope and Glory' from the majority of those living nearby.' Nice story, Collins - shame it's unsourced. (Imperfect notes are worse than none.)

A more humane take on the working class than Richard Hoggart's, and with merely trace elements of ideological bandstanding (satellite dishes are only 'white working class'?), social history lite fused with autobiography. I could have done with more of the life-writing and less of the padding; as a work of history the only difference is that this purports to be by a member of said class. Up to a point, Lord Copper. Scrappily annotated, the sole quirks I noted were football and music hall described as 'leisurely pursuits' on page 58 (he means leisure pursuits) and 'a theatre entitled the Newington' on page 268. Entitled? I think not
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By SELondon_Al on 22 Jan. 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Let me start by declaring my interest - I am a South East London boy from the very social background portrayed in this book. Therefore, as well as perhaps more natural sympathy towards both the subject and the author I also found the location and wider cultural references that form the backbone of this book more intuitive and emotionally-relevant than readers from further afield may do.

Is 'The Likes of Us' a perfect book, or even the complete history of the White Working Class? Most certainly not. It is a very good book that focuses on that very unique WWC that inhabited and to a good extent still inhabits SE London from the edges of what people call 'Central' to the Kentish borders. But what this book tells us from a wider standpoint is the story of a significant building block of modern Britain that too many - in the media, in politics, in society at large - have been a bit too keen to sweep under the carpet and out of sight in the hope it would go away.

By mixing the personal (the author's family history - here told with a sensitive mix of the 'official' and the oral narrative, not without a hint of understandable sentimentalism at times) with a wider polemic and a comprehensive body of research and quotations, Michael Collins delivers a very readable, emotional even, page-turner that is nonetheless rich on detail and the kind of evidence that isn't far off that of an academic study on the subject.

I can't help but feel that by adding the tagline 'A Biography of the WWC' the author or the publishers made a tactical error. This isn't a nationwide history of the WWC. It is a very geography-specific one. But the wider theme of the polemic is in fact a UK-wide one. To a degree, the same argument can be made of the WWC in the post-industrial North.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Mel Metherell on 20 Jan. 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
book is excellent history of neighbourhood where 4 generations of my family lived. it has thrilled my 90 year old mother
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By T. S. C. VINE VOICE on 12 Jun. 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
There's a novelty already; a history of the Working class actually written by a member of the Working class; what will they think of next?!

I bought this and read it over a few weeks off and on. I wasn't at all sure what to expect from this book, but have been pleasantly surprised by it. To be honest, it's a history of Michael Collins' London family throughout the last couple of hundred years or so, rather than a particular history of the Working class in general. But, this is no bad thing; his family are to my mind very archetypal Working class city-dwellers and there is for me a great interest in that alone. As well as talking about his own family tree, which I enjoyed, he talks about the way the English white Working class in general are demonised or patronised or targeted for well-meaning but often missing-the-point 'missionary work' by those educated Middle classes, who always seem to know better than us plebs about how to live life and how to talk and present themselves, and so on and so on. I guess if you're Working class (like I am) you've heard it all before and probably groaned time and time again, at the way even well-meaning Middle class people misrepresent and often totally misunderstand Working class people and our culture and the way we live and behave and relate to each other.

He also talks importantly about how White Working class people now seem to be the latest 'hate-figure' and how it's okay basically to attack White Working class people by nice, respectable Middle class, who, because they're not being racist or sexist or anything else, they can hate us without feeling guilty because of course all White Working class people are racist and sexist and misogynistic and uneducated and...you get the picture!
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