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68 of 71 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars labour of love
An extraordinary volume looking at a period (1780-1832) when the manufacturing classes got organised and gradually reduced wages and rationalised production, with the aid of a good deal of machinery. Thompson shows how the increasingly impoverished and alienated working classes, as they gradually came to think of themselves, worked their way through a variety of radical...
Published on 1 Feb. 2005 by conjunction

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32 of 64 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The Making of the Working Class in Thompson's image
This book has the reputation of being a classic of social history, and few histories of the period covered (1780 - 1832) omit reference to it. However, despite Thompson's evident talents, this book suffers from some serious shortcomings.

The book's title is in fact a misnomer, for the majority of the English working class were not radical reformers. Thompson...
Published on 1 Dec. 2010 by Excalibur


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68 of 71 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars labour of love, 1 Feb. 2005
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An extraordinary volume looking at a period (1780-1832) when the manufacturing classes got organised and gradually reduced wages and rationalised production, with the aid of a good deal of machinery. Thompson shows how the increasingly impoverished and alienated working classes, as they gradually came to think of themselves, worked their way through a variety of radical postures, including Jacobinism, dissent and methodism, constitutional reform, and then repressed by the Tory government during the Napoleonic wars went underground and turned up in 1816 more radical and numerous than ever. By this time we have highly organised if localised trade unions, groups and clubs in every neighbourhood studying Cobbett, The Black Dwarf and other radical literature, embracing agitation for universal suffrage and the cooperative ideas of Robert Owen. We also get fascinating pictures of men like Cobbett, Henry Hunt, William Blake and Hazlitt as well as many less well known names and the countless thousands who suffered and struggled in the interests of their class. Thompson also shows how historians who have not done his colossal research have often settled for Whig propaganda about the mindless character of the working class, or the condescension of contemporary historians like Place who wanted to play down the energy and commitment of radical elements.
Above all Thompson for the most part works hard to get a balanced view sometimes from limited information and keeps his tongue in his cheek much of the time. He is witty and cheerful, and the book is full of quotations from original sources. A great read if you want to really understand what was going on when Britain became 'great'.
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58 of 61 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Social History is fascinating!!, 18 July 2003
I had two major preconceptions which this book has reduced to rubble. The first was that social history was boring; the second was that all working class movements were (disappointingly) lead or supported by the middle-classes, and once the middle-classes got what they wanted and put the brakes on the movements they led the workers collapsed. This led me to view the working class (from which I spring) as pliant, disordered and whimsical. However, this book has taught me: social history is not boring; and the working classes are not feckless, whimsical and slavish (at least not a majority at that time). This is the story of a whole way of life for the lower swathe of society being slowly and calculatedly ripped limb from limb then stitched back together by and for people who found it profitable for themselves to do so. However, the process was not acted on passive beings; hearteningly, the people upon whom some of the cruellest (sustained and systematic) acts in history (before the 20th Century) were perpetrated on fought back, and did a good deal to frustrate the aims of Authority. There was heroic resistance and a great deal of this resistance was led by the working classes themselves. The resisitance, by its nature, also developed political consciousnes, political involvement, and an admirable way of life that seems to have left this country now - returning home from work (12 - 14 hours in those days) and educating yourself. The story is well told, although admittedly it starts slowly and for those who have no interest in statistics they will find a few dull patches. Nevertheless, it is a vital, fascinating and inspiring work. We seldom hear of this period of history in ways other than 'the Nasty Bonaparte' and 'Hero Wellington'. It is envigorating to know that in Britain Wellington wasn't everybody's hero, that people thought for themsleves and were prepared to do something about their situation, nor was the war being fought viewed as a clean-cut good v evil duel adrumbating the wars of the Twentieth Century. Anecdotes, tales of sacrifice, notes on literary figures, cruelties of a ruthless ruling class, spies, dissemblers, controversies and daring conspiracies: there are other histories to be told; this book tells one of them and tells it very well.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A book everyone should read, whatever their politics, 29 Jun. 2010
The study of history has been through a number of fashions since the end of the Second World War. Marxism, more traditional Whig approaches and post-structuralism have all been among the most influential in how historians approach their discipline. But one name stands out when postwar social history is discussed: E. P. Thompson.

It is true that Thompson displayed support for Marxist ideas and was a member of the CPGB until 1956. However, his theories on the development of social class are far from doctrinaire. Whereas Althusser in France was developing a much more structuralist approach to class, Thompson believed that working-class agency lay at the heart of the development of working-class culture and politics. The prefaces outline this approach very clearly and are, for me at least, some of the most important parts of this book. He also looks at traditional forms of radicalism and saw in England the continuation of these as the working class developed and bonded together to face the new world of industrialisation. This is reflected in other works by Thompson where what was seen as corruption in government was often the source of discontent rather than the lack of democracy. However, both added up to the same thing for radicals: the need for a political system much more open to widespread participation. Traditional forms of discontent, such as rioting, were also maintained and helped to demonstrate that the working class were not just victims of structural changes to England's economy and society.

In 'The making of the English working class', Thompson also pays homage to the role of religion in working-class life demonstrating that Thompson is aware of how rich and vibrant the working-class experience was. The associational culture of the working class, be it in trade unions or in sports clubs, has become an essential part of social history research and this must owe something to Thompson and his work in liberating the less poweful in society from their stereotypical role as merely the victims of economic developments. Undoubtedly Thompson is a left-wing historian but this should not dissuade anyone from reading this excellent work because it gives such a detailed view of the development of working-class consciousness, even if, ultimately, this consciousness did not endure as some thought it would.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great account of a fascinating movement and a pivotal period, 11 July 2010
By 
Jeremy Bevan (West Midlands, UK) - See all my reviews
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Rightly considered Thompson's masterpiece, this is a fascinating history, from a committed Marxist standpoint, of how the working class both shaped and was shaped by the economic, social, and political circumstances of England between 1780 and 1832, the year of the Great Reform Act. Thompson argues that the class grew out of the worsening conditions among (but also the strong relations between) small masters and craft artisans in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, rather than emerging fully-formed with the mass industrialisation of the early 19th century. There's a wealth of fascinating detail on Tom Paine and the fevered political climate of the 1790s, stoked by fears of a `Jacobin' rising to match that of the French Revolution. The author analyses, too, how this fed into political repression both in this period and, more savagely, during the 1810s at the height of the Napoleonic Wars, when worsening economic conditions among artisans and weavers (coupled with increasing mechanisation) led to outbursts of `Luddite' machine-breaking.

Into this, the author weaves deft accounts of what was happening in terms of standards of living, family and home life, and - fascinatingly - religious life, where he furiously indicts Methodism for encouraging a counter-revolutionary `chiliasm of despair'. His charge is that it muted and transformed revolutionary fervour into inward spiritual fervour, rather than political agitation for change. (It was illuminating to discover that Thompson was himself the Methodist-educated child of Methodist missionary parents).

As Thompson moves on to consider the latter part of the `Luddite' decade and the 1820s, he focuses on the developing political cohesion of the working class in the light of the Pentridge Rising, the Peterloo massacre, the Cato Street conspiracy and the general turn to more organised protest to secure political reform. There's a fine concluding analysis of standard-bearers for reform like Cobbett and Owen, with all their strengths and limitations. The fascination of Thompson's writing is twofold: both in the wealth of detail, convincingly presented and sometimes overturning the established conclusions of major earlier historians in the process; and the presentation of a voice and a perspective which is radical - and must have seemed threatening at the time to established interests. Some of it (for example discussion of the Pentridge Rising) was new to me. And for all his careful documentation and close argument, there's also a fine and entirely proper (given the grievous exploitation and political injustices perpetrated on them) sense of moral indignation on behalf of the working class. Thompson's fine and exhaustively detailed account is a fitting tribute to the rise of a fascinating movement at a pivotal moment in our history.
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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Book I would take on a Desert Island, 28 July 2012
By 
Solo Walker "SW" (UK) - See all my reviews
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First read this at least 30 years ago. Still have a paperback copy in my bedside draw. It is my companion when I seek comfort or get lost in the daily grind of work, home, work & cannot sleep. I read random pages, sometimes I only manage a few lines. But, the book has an intense depth in each sentence of such imagery and knowledge.
I know where I come from and who I am when I read this book. I get great strength knowing my predecessors suffered and survived far greater hardships than I will ever imagine or endure. Not only that, but they fought to obtain rights and recognition for their contributions to the making of the society that I and others take for granted today.

To the English Working Class and the late, great E.P Thompson I am eternally grateful.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Forgotten Classic, 3 Nov. 2013
Academic texts are often unduly dismissed due to their dry-as-dust reputation. E.P. Thompson, influential in his day, has been unfairly neglected. This is probably partly due to the declining interest in the study of the 'working class'. But this book is about much, much more, and deserves to be read by anyone who would consider themselves well-versed in British social history.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Marxist history in action, 31 Dec. 2010
By 
Dr. G. L. Thomas (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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Other readers have commented on the book's compelling narrative and vivid style. What interests me about it mainly is that it's an attempt to apply Marxist tools to historical analysis. We can argue the pros and cons of 'Marx's theory of history'. More - or at least equally - interesting is the light which Marxist analysis throws (if any : and I think quite a lot) on social history. Here's a Marxist historian at work, checking the archives and statistics, and delivering his results for all, not just a coterie of other Marxists, to scrutinise and assess.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Scholarly but readable., 7 Feb. 2014
By 
Ms. J. A. Russell "Jan R" (Birmingham. U.K.) - See all my reviews
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This is most definitely a study and not a novel. Be prepared to have to work a little to get a reward from this. If you are looking for scholarly narrative this is a good source book.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 50 years old but still fascinating, 10 Jun. 2014
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This review is from: The Making of the English Working Class (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)
This was bought as a gift for eldest. I have an original Pelican - it is a fascinating history of how the English working class, its beliefs, customs and practices came about
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5.0 out of 5 stars must buy/must read..., 21 Feb. 2015
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one of those must buy/must read books; very happy to have my copy...
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The Making of the English Working Class (Penguin Modern Classics)
The Making of the English Working Class (Penguin Modern Classics) by E. P. Thompson (Paperback - 3 Oct. 2013)
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