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This Boy [Paperback]

Alan Johnson
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (502 customer reviews)
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Book Description

27 Feb 2014

Alan Johnson's childhood was not so much difficult as unusual, particularly for a man who was destined to become Home Secretary. Not in respect of the poverty, which was shared with many of those living in the slums of post-war Britain, but in its transition from two-parent family to single mother and then to no parents at all...

This is essentially the story of two incredible women: Alan's mother, Lily, who battled against poor health, poverty, domestic violence and loneliness to try to ensure a better life for her children; and his sister, Linda, who had to assume an enormous amount of responsibility at a very young age and who fought to keep the family together and out of care when she herself was still only a child.

Played out against the background of a vanishing community living in condemned housing, the story moves from post-war austerity in pre-gentrified Notting Hill, through the race riots, school on the Kings Road, Chelsea in the Swinging 60s, to the rock-and-roll years, making a record in Denmark Street and becoming a husband and father whilst still in his teens.

This Boy is one man's story, but it is also a story of England and the West London slums which are so hard to imagine in the capital today. No matter how harsh the details, Alan Johnson writes with a spirit of generous acceptance, of humour and openness which makes his book anything but a grim catalogue of miseries.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Corgi (27 Feb 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0552167010
  • ISBN-13: 978-0552167017
  • Product Dimensions: 20 x 12.6 x 2.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (502 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 78 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"the best memoir by a politician you will ever read" (Philip Collins The Times)

"a poignant memoir.Johnson writes wonderfully" (Mary Kenny Telegraph)

"deeply moving and unforgettable" (Lynn Barber Sunday Times)

"a handsome and eloquent tribute" (Peter Wilby Guardian)

"beautifully, beautifully written... his style is utterly simple, with a wit so understated that every reader will believe that he or she alone got it" (John Rentoul Independent on Sunday)

"Neither mawkish nor sentimental, it is an evocative, filmic account on an early childhood... would make a fabulous drama that, for all its squalor, lifts the spirits" (Judith Woods Daily Telegraph)

"a testament to the power of family love and a tribute to two strong women" (Ian Birrell Daily Mail)

"Wonderful and moving... unreadable with a dry eye" (The Times)

"the biography of a politician like no other - beautifully observed, humorous, moving, uplifting; told with a dry self-deprecating wit and not a trace of self-pity" (Chris Mullin Observer)

"No ordinary politician's memoir ... wonderful." (John Grimond The Spectator)

Book Description

Winner of the Royal Society of Literature Ondaatje Prize 2014

Winner of the Orwell Prize 2014

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
104 of 105 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An admirable and moving memoir 19 May 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
While I must admit personally to having blown hot and cold so far as the Blair and Brown governments were concerned I always regarded Alan Johnson as one of the few members of those governments who combined integrity, honesty and a deep-rooted sense of fairness with the character of an authentically nice bloke. My liking and respect for the man is enhanced by this book, not least because, although it's his own autobiograpy, in fact it's not about him per se.

And when did you last read a political autobiography that was not an ego-trip by the author?

Rather Alan Johnson's book is mainly about two remarkable women - his mother, Lily and his sister Linda - struggling for their own survival, and that of the young Alan, in dreadful slum conditions, with a husband and father, Steve - who was a total waste of space in every respect - during the period between the end of World War Two and the beginning of the Swinging Sixties. (And the book is a powerful reminder to those of us who remember those times of how bloody horrible in some many ways the "good old days" of the 50s really were; violent racism, unbridled sexism and homophobia, casual violence, grinding poverty, Arctic winters....)

Lily's life is an eternal struggle, made even more unbearable when Steve abandons her and the two children. Wastrel he may have been but his leaving is still like a bereavement. Yet she copes, robbing Peter to pay Paul, always doing her very best for Linda and Alan. Then Lily dies, at only 42 and Linda takes over, defying officialdom though only in her teens so that she and her young brother can stay together.

The story sounds tragic. While it's certainy sad, it escapes tragedy due to Alan Johnson's refusal to write it as a "dreadful childhood" memoir.
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27 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This Boy 22 May 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Wonderful book, well written with complete humility. What a remarkable upbringing Johnson had. To come through it all and make such a success of his life is testament, not only to his own perseverance, but also the love and tenacious spirit of his mother and sister. I fully recommended this book.
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88 of 91 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Deeply moving and absorbing memoir 10 May 2013
By Suelea
I haven't been able to put this down since starting it. To the current generation,Alan Johnson's account may seem one of unbelievable deprivation growing up in now trendy Notting Hill, in what was then a crumbling slum. Yet those of us Baby Boomers can still recall the reality of the pre-benefit,pre-central heating,pre-health and safety era and this is undoubtedly part of the book's charm. Every page resonates with shared experience- the world we grew up in the fifties is indeed another country.
But that is not all this work conveys- a testament to the devotion of his mother Lily who raised two children and formed their characters admirably despite grinding poverty,failing health and a feckless,violent husband,and also to the strength and feisty determination of his sister Linda to keep the family together.
Written in an unsentimental and highly readable style,this memoir is the best autobiography I have read in very long time. Enjoy!
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52 of 54 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I couldn't out this down! 17 May 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Thoroughly compelling, this story is a fantastic bit of social history in its own right. Post war, slums, the position of women, the arrival of commonwealth migrant workers but it also details the early life of a remarkable politician so very different to the leading political figures who all seem to be cloned from the same Oxbridge college.
Alan Johnson comes across as witty, charming, authentic and self-deprecating, but the real heroes of the story are his sister and mother who never gave up hope fighting against what must have seemed like impossible odds.
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49 of 51 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Deprived london childhood 15 May 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I have always admired Alan Johnson as a politician and you can see through reading this account of his childhood why he went on to be a committed socialist. I would recommend this book to anyone of any political persuasion. There is always an upbeat optimism even in the face of extreme poverty and squalor. I couldn't put this down and hope there are further episodes to come.
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47 of 50 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars this boy 10 May 2013
Format:Kindle Edition
An excellent book.
Written in a matter of fact and modest way but very moving.A rare working class account written from the inside and telling a story of strength and love.This is not a directly political memoir but it does give a voice to those neglected by their so called betters.I hope a sequel follows. Glyn Roberts
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I rarely give 5 stars for anything because that implies the read or listen is perfect - well, in this case that's pretty much the case. Beautifully and honestly written account of life in London in the 50's/60's where Alan's sister Linda is the true hero A classic example of how someone can lift themselves from the depths of poverty to levels that must have seemed unachievable. Alan Johnson writes with a simple sincerity that is endearing and heart breaking - the account of his relationship with his mother strikes close to home and in parts is heartbreaking. Anyone with a passing interest in social history should read this - just a shame Alan never made it to Prime Minister. He would have been great.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars This Boy 25 Jun 2013
By blossom
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This Boy brings back many childhood memories for me. I too was a poor child in the early 1950s though thankfully I didn't suffer the abject poverty and loss of parents that Alan did. Reading his description of having no heating, no hot water, no lights and outside loos with wooden bench seats brought it all back to me. There were thousands of us poor children during that time although I'm sure that not many were orphaned and had to fend for themselves to the extent that Alan and his sister did. A very good read - it should be read by or to those who think they are poor today because it shows just how far we have progressed in this society in trying to help those who need help most. Well done Alan for making such a success of your life despite the poverty and hardship you, your mum and your sister suffered.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Johnson's book reads like something from Dickens
Johnson and I are exact contemporaries. We both grew up in London. But the difference between our experiences is staggering. Johnson's book reads like something from Dickens. Read more
Published 11 hours ago by Worplesdon
5.0 out of 5 stars Review of this boy by Alan Johnson
I really enjoyed this book and can't wait to read the next one. Alan's account of growing up in poverty, told so simply made me realise how lucky I was to have two caring parents. Read more
Published 21 hours ago by Patricia Cook
5.0 out of 5 stars Shame Labour didn't have him as leader
What a book
Published 1 day ago by A. Jones
5.0 out of 5 stars fings ain't what they use to be - thank God.
This isn't a social history, but it could have been. Its sole purpose is not to recount the events and experiences that would mould the politician to be, although in its own way it... Read more
Published 1 day ago by john
5.0 out of 5 stars Extremely well written, evoking a time of rationing and ...
Extremely well written, evoking a time of rationing and poverty after the war. Very moving and I look forward to reading forthcoming books tracing his life.
Published 2 days ago by Helen Grady
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful book. Alan Johnson writes in a warm
Wonderful book. Alan Johnson writes in a warm, funny and touching way and evokes long forgotten memories of growing up in the 50s and 60s.
Published 3 days ago by Bookworm
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Published 3 days ago by hosepipe ted ( cook )
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful
This book brought back so many memories for me it is as though Alan and his family lived a parallel life. Read more
Published 4 days ago by Annie
5.0 out of 5 stars Childhood memories
This book highlighted the gap in the present state of the government today. My childhood memories of the real poverty that existed in my world are reflected here. Read more
Published 4 days ago by Terry C
5.0 out of 5 stars Riveting
this is a great social history review, it is so obvious what has made Alan Johnson the man he became, the unfair lifestyle that so many had to endure is a shameful part of our... Read more
Published 5 days ago by jon phillips
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