64 of 65 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Intellectual Working Class
This is a marvellous book! The Author displays a remarkable insight into many aspects of working class culture. I was born and bred in Penrhiwceiber, a bustling village (mentioned on page 241), near Mountain Ash in the South Wales mining valleys. My parents and Grand Parents had also lived their lives there, and had taken active parts in the choral societies and local...
Published on 22 Feb 2004 by howellthomas
7 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Neoliberal working classes
I dissent from previous reviews. This book is a compendium of Smilesian success stories where most of the anecdotal evidence shows people achieving success and escaping from the working class. It is a great paean of self-help. On the surface it might seem a history of an aspect of socialism but it is a socialism without any socialism. Published first in 1999 this is a...
Published 17 months ago by Junius
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64 of 65 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Intellectual Working Class,
I am also immpressed by the author's willingness to include in various places, the attitudes of the 'not-so-bookish' and 'anti-learning' factions of the working classes who ridiculed and scorned the efforts of the autodidacts and their efforts. Such people were (and still are) as much of an obstacle to the private students who tried to put their learning into practice in their everyday lives, as the hated Capitalist class who were regarded as keeping the poor man 'at his gate' so to speak. So, in fact, the pressures against you came from both above and below. I know this too from personal experience.
I heartily recommend this book to all who are interested in the old concept of 'learning for learning's sake' and the intellectual development of the individual. The book presupposes a wide knowledge of literature, poitics, religion and history in the reader, but it is easy to read and I am very glad I have added it to my own - 'working class private library'. Howell Thomas.
26 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Working Class Heroes,
This review is from: The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes (Yale Nota Bene) (Paperback)If I could give this book six stars out of five I would, it is an absolutely brilliant book, as illuminating as it is enjoyable. In essence it is the story of the 'Autodidact' (or 'self-taught') tradition of the British working classes which seemed to surface in the eighteenth century, become prominent in the nineteenth century and continued well into the twentieth.
A story of 'mutual improvement societies,' 'miners institutes,' 'self-help,' 'everyman libraries,' of men and woman at work at the loom or down the mineshaft with no formal guidance or tutoring making their own way through Dickens and Ruskin and Pilgrims Progress and Robinson Crusoe and whatever else they could lay their hands on.
A story that includes the story of the intellectual milleau that gave birth to the formation of the Labour Party and which had a profound influence on its subsequent development in the first half of the twentieth century, an answer as to why British Socialism owed more to Methodism than to Marxism.
The story of the effect of mass literacy, of Victorian educational reform, of the class-ridden, snobbish differentiation between 'highbrow,' 'middlebrow,' and 'lowbrow,' of the decline of the Autodidact tradition brought by increasing affluence, greater opportunities for higher education, new forms of media and rapid cultural obsolescence as 'cultural styles supercede one another with dizzying speed.'
The story of what it means to live in a country where Pop music employs more people than coal and steel and what kind of cultural shift that entails. The story of how the working class have been increasingly cut off from 'high' culture and what that entails.
In short, a history book of the highest order, one that cannot be reccomended enough, one that will truly provoke thought.
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Education. Education. Education.,
This review is from: The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes (Yale Nota Bene) (Paperback)Why were working class schoolboys (and girls) addicted to boarding school stories? Why did a Birmingham theatre have to put on extra performances of Shakespeare to prevent a riot? What did working class people think about foreigners? How did miners and labourers with little formal education end up as cabinet ministers?
In this fascinating book, historian Jonathan Rose turns detective to find out what working class people read, thought, listened to and talked about in 19th and early 20th century Britain. Here you will meet shepherds who exchanged books by leaving them in the niches of walls, miners who debated philosophy and literature in the depths of the earth, weavers who read as they worked and office boys who devoured poetry when they were meant to be working.
As well as the experience of individuals, we find out how this passion for learning led to the development of a parallel universe of education ranging from miners' institutes to the WEA and Ruskin College.
We also discover what those people who benefited from the 1870 Education Act actually thought of their schools and how effective (or ineffective) a centrally inspired syllabus was in producing compliant end economically useful citizens of the growing British Empire.
This is a must for any family historian whose great-grandfather left school at 12 yet somehow managed to master calculus or classical Greek. Book lovers will love it and it should be compulsory reading for those in control of education in 21st century Britain.
(A word of warning: at 460 pages, this is a hefty read, but it's quite possible to "dip in" and read an odd chapter, or even a section of a chapter, on its own).
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An immense achievement,
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This review is from: The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes (Paperback)I can't add much more to the praise that other reviewers have rightly bestowed on this book. It is both a hugely important piece of work and a brilliantly executed one. The key to this is Rose's methodology. At all times, whenever possible, he goes to the voices of working class readers for his central data. This gives him the authority to legitimately and roundly debunk a whole swathe of 'top-down' theories about working class intellectual life. Only occasionally does this lead him into potential error, such as his benign view - based on a somewhat unrepresentative autodidact sample - of the impact of modern popular and consumer culture on working class life. There's also one chapter, on the WEA, where he gets slightly carried away with his use of quotations.
However, make no mistake, this is an enormously accomplished piece of work. Rose writes well, too. Theorising is stronger at the end than during the main narrative but Rose is regularly challenging received wisdom throughout the book. The more narrow-minded communists and Marxists won't like it but one hopes that those with some insight might learn from it. For most readers, though, it will simply be a deep well of nourishing historical knowledge of the intellectual ambitions of our forebears and the struggles that they engaged in to wrest learning from the hands of the high and mighty and spread it amongst their own kind. If Rose hasn't won an award for this book then someone should create one especially. There are few social science books these days that one can describe as being of genuine significance. This is one. It is hard to imagine it being bettered and it will certainly be the first port of call for anyone interested in this subject.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Classic In Its Field,
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars intelligent and compelling,
This review is from: The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes (Yale Nota Bene) (Paperback)This books is really excellent - it is a tightly written, propery researched and radically thoughtful study of how people educate themselves and why - as well as some of the pit falls they can fall into. Occassionally the tone is a little romantic, but who would not be romantic on such a subject as this? This books made me think differently about its subject and sweeps away many of the most widely held and damaging misconceptions in our society. As history - it is exceptional. Rose shows his personality and is humorous whilst also being methodical and self critical. His own writing is worthy of the wit of his subjects.
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Inspiring stuff.,
This review is from: The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes (Paperback)This is one of the most important books I've ever read, and one of the most enjoyable. I've never gone back to a book of this sort so often - or so enthusiastically - looking for passages or quotes I underlined while eagerly reading it the first time.
Aside from the fact that it is so meticulously researched, so passionately told and so inspiring - yes, inspiring - a history of men, women and children's determination to educate and entertain and ultimately 'better' themselves, it also introduced me to many great writers, artists and thinkers, past and present, of whom I was either unaware or had previously, for whatever reason, avoided or neglected.
Whether you are interested in the ways 'ordinary people' have striven to improve their lot through art and literature, or an enthusiastically practising autodidact, this book is very much an education in itself.
27 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A compelling view of British Society,
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What particularly impressed me was the way it revealed the hidden prejudice from a refreshingly "normal" perspective.
The book covers a wider range of subjects including the rise of friendly societies and the labour movement in the context of bettering the lot of the less well off.
The approach is measured, not drawing on any jargon from sociology, Marxism or the like and, (as a non-historian, actually being a bit of a techie) compelling even though not an easy book to read. I particularly enjoyed the "trashing" of cultural studies in the introduction to the book.
Starting from before the industrial revolution the book covers material up to about 1975 and it has relevance today in a way the polemical and patronising tripe of the radical left fails to do.
When I got to the last page (464) having enjoyed reading every page I was surprised and pleased to see the reference to the on-line search. The results validated the anger and frustration I felt after a day's "diversity" training in the work place.
18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hugely enjoyable survey of working class culture,
A vast popular movement of voluntary collectivism created a hugely impressive working class culture - mutual improvement societies, Sunday schools, adult schools, libraries, reading circles, drama societies, musical groups, friendly societies, trade unions and mechanics' institutes. The London Corresponding Society, the world's first working class political organisation, met weekly; readings aloud provoked democratic discussion.
Education's purpose is to teach us to think for ourselves. The working class's self-improving culture encouraged them to ask questions and voice their thoughts and feelings. The great classics, Shakespeare (often described as the first Marxist), Handel's operas and Scott's novels, all stimulated thought, imagination and independence of mind.
Rose writes well about Marxists' problem of relating to workers. The class described in these pages, complex, thoughtful, independent-minded, savvy, resent being told what to think or what it thinks. This alone explains why there is, as yet, no mass British Marxism, not external influences, or the efficacy of ruling class institutions, or, the ultra-left dogma, misleadership - get the right cutting-edge vanguard and the dim masses will at last play follow the leader.
As Rose writes, "The trouble with Marx was Marxists, whom British workers generally found to be dogmatic, selfish, and antiliterary." They dismissed the workers' hard-earned culture as bourgeois, and "they treated workers as unthinking objects." Do we, now, tell them what to think? MPs and employers believe, "Ah'm paid ter do t'thinkin' 'ere." 'Marxists' who repeat that approach will, rightly, get nowhere.
Ruskin wrote of those "whom the world has not thought of, far less heard of, who are yet doing most of its work, and of whom we can best learn how it can best be done." The working class will stick with capitalism until Marxists start to learn from them how the world's work 'can best be done'.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An elegy for autodidact culture,
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The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes by Jonathan Rose (Paperback - 16 April 2010)
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