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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 16 August 2012
I got this book for a pound in a library sale. Shame on the library! This is a superb book that deserves a wide readership. The period of the early 19th century needs to be read by anyone who wants to understand contemporary British politics and culture. Ingrams book is weighed in all the right measures; it's polemical, funny, engrossing and brings to live all the contradictions and humanity of Cobbett's life and writings.

Cobbett's pen potraits of his opponents are still a rich source of satire and master class in put downs and exposure of the hypocrisy and cant of the rulers of the period. Of Lord Brougham he writes' Lord Crackskull - he is the weazel, the nightmare, the indigestion'.

Of Thomas Malthus he writes, 'Parson I have, during my life, detested many men; but never any one so much as you.'

Cobbett, along with Thomas Paine, should be part of the national curriculum.

It would help save us all from the oppressive and shoddy legacy of the BBC. 'Blair, Brown and Cameron'.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
I found this to be an easy read and a very enjoyable book. Most potential readers will know that Richard Ingrams was a founder of `Private Eye' magazine and later founder and editor of `Oldie' magazine and given this and the rather comical cover to the book might expect to find a rather jokey or irreverent text. This is, however, a perfectly serious and very well written biography of William Cobbett an endless campaigner for political reform and press freedom. Cobbett is perhaps best known today for his book, `Rural Rides' which is still in print two hundred years after it was written. `Rural Rides' provides a very detailed and useful record of rural England just on the cusp of the industrial revolution. Ingrams does an excellent job in showing that there is much more to Cobbett; that he was a tireless commentator on the lot of the farm worker (he was not interested in the new factories), on the need for political reform, and for better representation in parliament. His views were expressed in his weekly newspaper, `The Political Register', one of the few independent, non-subsidised, papers of his day. Cobbett campaigned for press freedom and like others such as Leigh Hunt paid the price with a jail term for being critical of the establishment and twice had to flee to America to escape prosecution.
Ingrams provides a well rounded picture of Cobbett and his family and describes well Cobbett's experiences in Philadelphia and Long Island and his triumphant return to England to manage a farm and run a weekly paper of which he was the major contributor. Many of the key figures of the day appear in the story, endless invective being reserved for the long running Tory government of Lord Liverpool, the established church, William Wilberforce (for "telescopic philanthropy" and no interest in the plight of his fellow countrymen), the Reverend Malthus and his theories on population and the introduction of paper money. Cobbett came to the same conclusion that is common currency today that all politicians are the same, self seeking, and that there is not much to choose between them. In passing Ingrams deals with the Peterloo Massacre, the Cato Street Conspiracy and the general failure of the "Six (libel) Acts" of Viscount Sidmouth (Henry Addington) and barbarous punishment to suppress widespread criticism of the government.
Ingrams shows that from time to time the arguments put forward by Cobbett were not sound and that his immense egotism provided little room for acknowledgement of the work of others such as Thomas Attwood in promoting political reform. Nevertheless Cobbett was an invaluable observer of his times and personally set out to discover for himself the state of the rural labourer in England, Scotland and Ireland. Without doubt Cobbett contributed to the sea-change in public opinion that towards the end of his life finally obliged politicians to pass the Reform Act of 1832 which secured him a seat in the Commons.
As might be expected Ingrams, a long term columnist for `The Observer', has written a very enjoyable and immensely readable book about one of the early social pioneers and heroes of the Left and this work is highly recommended.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on 15 October 2009
My great great grandfather born in 1805 was an agricultural labourer in Worcestershire. In early 1840's he was convicted of some minor offences by today's standards, such as stealing a kettle and bucket of coal and 1 burglary. For this he was sentenced to 7 years transportation to Van Diemans Land (Tasmania).

Was he just a crook or was he driven by desperation through hunger, poverty and destitution to commit these offences to enable his family to survive. Those 7 years became a life sentence as he never returned to these shores and died a pauper.

I bought this book to see if it would shed some light on the social conditions faced by agricultural labourers in the period prior to 1840's and it exceeded my expectations many times over.

Cobbett raged against the corrupt and harsh political Tory and Whig aristocracy and judiciary and their contempt for the poor, the Clergy, who were complicit in ignoring the plight of the poor, but not the Church itself. The bankers and stock jobbers also were targets for his scorn as were the biased newspapers which, in the main were Tory propaganda and if there was any dissent or criticsm of the government this was met met by threatened and actual prosecutions for sedious libel.

Nearly two centuries later we may ask just how much has fundamentally changed. Corrupt politicians fiddling their expenses, the rich bankers and the stock jobbers and their obscene bonuses taking this country to the brink of ruin and being baled out by the taxpayer and by attacks on benefit recipients to cut the national debt. Outrage by the wealthy against any tax rises for them. Increased wealth disparity between rich and poor. Little to choose between the major political parties all of whom seem to have lost their moral compass.

Richard Ingrams is to be applauded for this book. It should be essential reading in the national curriculam

We need another inspirational Cobbett grass roots figure to rescue us from the quagmire that now engulfs us.

Will we find one? Does anyone you know fit the bill?

Read the book. Be inspired. You never know the next Cobbett could be you!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 11 April 2011
Having very little knowledge of William Cobbett other than knowing him as the author of "Rural Rides", I was inclined to learn more about this character and his times. Richard Ingrams' book is excellent in the way it sets the scene for the period, corrupt polititians and newspapers, the struggles of working people, the imminent industrial revolution and Cobbett the maverick fighting for what he believes in. Although two hundred years ago it has so many parallels with today. Can we please have a few William Cobbetts for the early 21st century! Overall a great read and it has left me wishing to read Rural Rides to get more of the flavour of the writing of the great man himself.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on 31 August 2009
An introduction to the life of possibly the first political journalist who left an impact on the English politics during the first part of the nineteenth century. The life is extraordinary for the person that Cobbett was - to most the author of "Rural Rides", but after reading this book - a person of great integrity, weeded to battling for the larger weal as he understood it, irreprisible, battling against all odds, including battling it all alone. How easy it would have been for him on those days, as editor and owner of a newspaper, to act like most other patronised papers and exchange a life of strife for that of comfort with positions of power. But no, he struggled, nay he fought with the pen, and it was a lifelong fight against the system. And in the bargain he wrote more in his 40 years than possibly a few other writers, and his writing was powerful and yet easy to be even read by the working classes. Lest it be misunderstood, Cobbett's life was not just the life of liberal fighting for causes - it was a fulsome life and even in his struggles, Cobbett coould be a scrappy fighter, giving back as well as he received. Cobbett also rooted for the rural and agricultural way of life - he himself had started as an agricultural labourer. Richard Ingrams has chosen a fascinating subject and I would recommend this book wholeheartedly. A well rounded life indeed - when he was not wielding the pen, Cobbet was a great countryside person, a farmer, and an extraordinary parent. The book brings alive the times as well as the man.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 3 March 2011
not as good a book as i was expecting, Ingrams races through Cobbetts life with little real contextualisation,consequently you don't often get the feel of the times or the urgency of the debates. Interesting but lightweight journalese rather than scholarly history.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 4 March 2013
If you only associate Cobbett with "Rural Rides" then this engrossing biography will come as something of a surprise. A man with a deep love for his country but fearless in denouncing the abiding corruption of both Church and State.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 16 June 2013
Interesting and entertaining read. Richard Ingrams obviously likes and approves of his subject. Good to know that Journalists have always been a thorn in the side of the Establishment and that History is always repeating itself.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on 6 June 2007
Cobbett was a patriotic and radical journalist, an enemy to the British ruling class and a friend to its people. This splendid biography should introduce him to a wider audience.
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on 6 July 2005
Cobbett truely was a remarkable man. From farm boy to fame...ending up in prison along the way. Quite an inspiration of what a driven person can achieve. Late 18C early 19C dynamite!
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