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The Progressive Patriot [Hardcover]

Billy Bragg
3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)

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Book Description

9 Oct 2006
What does it mean to be English? What does it mean to be British? Is the cross of St. George a proud symbol of a great tradition, or the badge of a neo-Nazi? In a world where British citizens can lay bombs to kill their countrymen, where religious fundamentalism is on the increase and where the BNP are somehow part of the democratic process, what does patriotism actually mean? Our identity can change depending on what company we are in. For example, someone could describe themselves British to one person, Scottish to another and, say, a Londoner to another, and be right every time. But problems arise when someone tries to tell you what you are, based on your skin tone, religion, accent, surname, or whatever. This book is Billy Bragg's urgent, eloquent and passionate response to the events of 7 July 2005, when four bombs tore through a busy morning in London, killing 52 innocent people and injuring many more. A firm believer in toleration and diversity, he felt himself hemmed in by fascists on one side and religious fanatics on the other. The suicide bombers were all British-born and well integrated into our multicultural society. Yet, they felt no compunction in murdering and maiming their fellow citizens. Inclusivity is important, but without a sense of belonging to accompany it, what chance social cohesion...But where does a sense of belonging come from? Can it be conferred by a legal document? Is it a matter of blood and soil? Can it be taught? Is it nature or nurture? "The Progressive Patriot" is a book we all need to read. It pulls no punches in its insights and its radical vision offers a positive hope for a country teetering on the brink of catastrophe.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Bantam Press (9 Oct 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0593053435
  • ISBN-13: 978-0593053430
  • Product Dimensions: 24.2 x 16.2 x 2.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 313,443 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


"An intriguing and timely book, which opens a new angle on the debate of what it means to be British and a patriot" (Daily Express)

"Charming and engaging... The Progressive Patriot flows with integrity and commitment" (The Independent)

"Whatever your views, there is much to be inspired by here, and much you will want to rant right back at." (Sunday Telegraph) --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Book Description

A passionate and brilliant polemic on the meaning of national identity in modern Britain --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
26 of 30 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Socialism and the English genius 5 Nov 2006
Billy Bragg is not so much a national treasure as a national hero in my eyes. This semi-autobiographical work is flawed but is deeply charming (like the man himself). It's certainly no sex, drugs, rock 'n'roll and football affair (which is a shame as I'd have liked to hear Billy's take on that) but a history lesson and a polemic from the radical tradition. The self-styled Big-nosed Bard of Barking has swapped lyric writing for prose writing and as he admits in the introduction it's a totally different discipline. The Progressive Patriot is part of his ongoing attempt to reclaim English patriotism from the neo-nazis. Woody Guthrie might have said 'this guitar kils fascists' but Billy is hoping this book will kill fascists ideals on patriotism. I must confess I found the the history of Barking a tad tedious (despite knowing the area well as a long-time West Ham fan)and the Charles 1 material about the declaration of rights felt like a school history lesson (and urgently needed some of Billy's extremely dry humour), but his idolisation of Simon and Garfunkel is immensely entertaining and the book comes alive when he's writing about the rise of Rock Against Racism.

This is an absolutely essential read for any Billy Bragg fan and has moments, that like his song 'Between The Wars', are a thing of beauty and a joy forever.

Paul Wellings, author of 'I'm a journalist...get me out of here', 'Spend It Like Beckham' and 'Sex,Lines and Videotape'(Progressive Press)
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Uneven but interesting take on English identity 21 Aug 2010
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Billy Bragg is a well known singer songwriter and activist, and this is a very personal account of English identity. He examines both the history of dissent in England and his own family history as a way of examining how he came to his own views, and rounds it off with a passionate plea for a proper, modern Bill of Rights in this country as a way of countering the rise of fascist organisations like the BNP (British National Party), who have been particulalry successful, until recently, in his own East End of London. It's an interesting account of Englishness (rather than what it is to be British, for the Welsh and Scots seem more secure in their own identity), but it is rather uneven in the way it is written. At times the account becomes too personal, almost autobiographical, with long sections on the rise of Punk music and his part in the music scene of the time. Interesting in itself, but too much detail compared to the more measured historical analysis of English identity. Perhaps I was expecting more of the latter and not expecting the depth of autobiography, I certainly enjoyed that part more, and became restless when the focus switched back to his own family. Probably this should be two books not one, each one a litle more focussed...
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41 of 50 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Guardianista speaks 26 May 2007
The great thing about Billy Bragg's attempt to piece together a progressive narrative for how the people who call Britain their home today came to be here, is that he isn't nearly as impressed with his erudition or cognitive powers as Amazon reviewer Mr Neil Saunders.

In his review Saunders is so pre-ocupied with grandstanding and giving people ample chance to enjoy his self-important opinions on the "sociocultural" left and right, postmodernism and Mrs Thatcher's intellectual limitations that he pays scant regard to what was actually written. When he does turn to the book itself, for instance the section on the Venerable Bede and the "myth" of our Anglo-Saxon ancestry he utterly fails to grasp the point Bragg makes. It's as if his intellectual narcissism has left him too dazzled to see clearly.

That's not the only part where Mr Saunder's rabid point-scoring leaves him exposed. At no time does Bragg present a "Celticist interpretation of English history". At the broadest level his book is a "bottom-up" response to the traditional Whig interpretation of history where the inexorable march of "liberty" has been facilitated by a generous patrician elite. At the lowest level, and this is where the book is so engaging, it's a deeply personal family history, firmly rooted in Barking, that humanises the great events of British constitutional development. Bragg clearly feels that Magna Carta, the Civil War, the Glorious Revolution, the Chartists, the social changes of WW2 and the post-war settlement affect his life and shape the nature of living in Britain today. His interpretation may be optimistic and at time naive but it is honest and clearly stated in a way that is worthy of our consideration.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Nicely written, but an uneven mixture 17 Aug 2007
I only know Billy Bragg from a few of his songs (the terrific "A New England", of course, plus his lesser-known third album "Talking To The Taxman About Poetry"), and a vague idea about his political activism. So I had a few preconceptions about what this book (lent to me by a friend) would be about - the usual musician's story, supplemented by a side order of polemic. He'd thrown me off the scent by the end of the first chapter, which is a careful - even scholarly - account of the history of Barking (his birthplace). He follows that with a discussion about the Anglo-Saxons, the story of his ancestors' involvement in the London Docks strikes of 1889 and 1911 and the history of his family. It's not until the fourth chapter that he starts telling - in a very roundabout fashion - how he got interested in music.

So this isn't your standard musician's book, although he gives a very good account of the relationships between British and American folk music in the 60's (an early influence was Paul Simon, and BB makes the fascinating suggestion that "The Boxer" was inspired by a Essex fighter named Billy Walker) and the way he got swept along with the arrival of punk in 1976. In addition, he writes very well (he memorably describes the difference between writing a song and a book, comparing taking a photograph to "painting in oils on a twelve-by-twenty foot canvas"). He's clearly put a lot of work into this book (though I think the first name of the historian he calls Charles Babington MacCaulay was really Thomas), but the overall point he's trying to make remains obscure.

First, as others have pointed out, there seems to be a confusion about nationalism, patriotism and xenophobia, which get used interchangably.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Billy Bragg for Prime Minister !! Very interesting and informative...
Excellent read, by one of England's greatest singer song writers. This book shatters many of the myths and lies peddled by the right wing press of this country.
Published 3 months ago by D R COPS
2.0 out of 5 stars Brickbat
I'm a Billy Bragg fan - of his music and some of his politics (the Old Labour/Unions bits). The New 'Left' politically correct claptrap gets on my nerves. Read more
Published 10 months ago by delwboy
5.0 out of 5 stars Bought as gift
Bought as a gift for my dad for Christmas. Exactly want he wanted and what was described. He'll love it.
Published 16 months ago by Leoni
5.0 out of 5 stars An unexpected serving from the Billy Bragg
I was impressed with this as it was not what I was expecting. Musicians are not necessarily good writers or particularly clear eyed enough to capture social history under a bigger... Read more
Published 21 months ago by "Belgo Geordie"
1.0 out of 5 stars hypocrite.
the man is a self-serving hypocrite. anyone listening to this kind of drivel really should know better. Read more
Published on 5 Feb 2011 by dorothy sayers
4.0 out of 5 stars passionate patriot
I've always felt that flying the Union flag should be for us as flying the starts and stripes is for Americans, an uncomplicated show of pride in the country. Read more
Published on 25 Oct 2010 by Adam Golding
3.0 out of 5 stars It fails to make a convincing argument
I didn't have high hopes for this book - having decided to read it after it was referred to a couple of times in other things. Read more
Published on 5 Oct 2010 by G. Stone
3.0 out of 5 stars The bard of Barking writes
Billy Bragg's Progressive Patriot is part autobiography, part attempt to define and understand modern Britain. Read more
Published on 18 Aug 2010 by Supportyourlocallibrary
5.0 out of 5 stars One Hit Wonder
A one hit wonder in commercial terms,,,but that chart-topper New England is one more classic pop song then most people write. Read more
Published on 31 Mar 2009 by Lion Forrest
4.0 out of 5 stars Biography, history and politics with a lot of heart
Fuelled by Billy Bragg's dismay and anger at the British National Party's success in the local elections in his beloved Barking, The Progressive Patriot looks at the area's more... Read more
Published on 9 Mar 2009 by Greg Farefield-Rose
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