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107 of 108 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential and entertaining reading on Victorian England
Mayhew interviewed hundreds of people, all extremely poor, and many in destitution, to discover the conditions of poverty in London in 1852. Here, he relates their stories in their own words, with deep sympathy, but is never patronising or judgemental in the typical Victorian fashion. The interviews shed light on all aspects of Victorian society, viewed by those it...
Published on 10 April 1999

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1 of 10 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Hard reading.
At the price the book was cheap but to get through it you need a degree in literature. Don't expect an easy read.
Published 21 months ago by tony trouble


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107 of 108 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential and entertaining reading on Victorian England, 10 April 1999
By A Customer
Mayhew interviewed hundreds of people, all extremely poor, and many in destitution, to discover the conditions of poverty in London in 1852. Here, he relates their stories in their own words, with deep sympathy, but is never patronising or judgemental in the typical Victorian fashion. The interviews shed light on all aspects of Victorian society, viewed by those it treated harshest. Favourite examples: the photographer, who exploited his customer's ignorance of the technique (a widow whose picture did not come out is given one of a sailor, and told that the cap represents her hair); the crossing-sweeper, who earns pennies by drawing pictures in the mud outside the shopping arcade; the wife of the soldier sent to Canada, who finds relief in a homeless shelter, her stockings having frozen to her feet. Most stories are personal tragedies, each of a different kind, though many with flashes of humour. The extent of some people's bad fortunes is frequently distressing: because these are real people who speak to us through Mayhew's writing. The author's conclusion is that society is to blame for the poverty of its citizens, a view he reaches by recognising his interviewees' essential humanity.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A window into a grimy past, vivid and compelling., 1 May 2011
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Jason Mills "jason10801" (Accrington, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: London Labour and the London Poor (Classics of World Literature) (Paperback)
"London Labour and the London Poor" began life in a newspaper around 1850 and went through several editions, culminating in four volumes. Mayhew sought to survey at first-hand the lives of the impoverished, and analyse the causes of their poverty. Modern popular editions like this Wordsworth one are selections from the larger work. The editors in this case have sought not merely to provide a 'colourful' selection of Mayhew's interviews with the poor, but to represent the breadth of his writings and concerns. Thus, this edition is rearranged and chaptered thematically, whilst the knowledgeable introduction explores Mayhew's life and the context of and reactions to his work.

Nonetheless, the voices of the poor bubble to the surface incessantly throughout the book, their sober testimonials often shocking. There is a good deal on the subculture of costermongers, but we also hear from the Jews, the Irish, street entertainers, labourers, thieves, cabinet-makers, scavengers, "pure-finders", etc. The longest chapter here, and perhaps the most trenchantly polemical, presents Mayhew's exhaustive account of the methods by which unscrupulous employers exploit the workers, who, desperate to earn a crust, are forced to collude in cruelly inventive systems that can only depress their own wages. (One reads of the shamelessly profiteering system for hiring ballast-heavers with astonishment that such practices could be legal.) There are also chapters on criminality, domestic life, culture, etc.

Mayhew's determined efforts to support his case with statistics suffer from a paucity of good data and unsophisticated methodology at the time; but with both this and his copious direct experience he still succeeds in undermining the glib arguments of contemporary economists that the poor had essentially made their own beds, and that their capitalist employers should not be expected to help. Mayhew is against charity and for the working man (indeed, he divides the poor into "deserving" and "undeserving"...), but insists that wages must not be artificially depressed by exploitation. (In the closing section of this edition he draws economists' attention to the unmentioned 600 million "steam men" introduced into the labour market by industrialisation.)

Mayhew lets the poor speak for themselves - in itself a great service to social history - and earnestly draws his arguments out of his discoveries. His analytical writing is clear and cogent, while his reportage, as for instance in describing the street markets, is often vibrant and vivid, and would not disgrace the pages of Dickens.

This 600-page edition's appendices are a bibliography of Mayhew's works, the full table of contents of the larger work, and an expansive list of his sources and authorities - though oddly, no index. There are also 16 illustrations and 4 maps. Though I'm not able to compare other editions, this one seems to me a satisfying, informative, diverse and persuasive selection from one of the classics of social history.
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81 of 85 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A must-read for those interested in Victorian England, 19 Aug 1999
By A Customer
Henry Mayhew, founder of Punch magazine, wrote this four-volume sociological classic during the 1850's. If you are at all interested in the Victorian era, in British history, in London, or in urban history in general, this is a must-read. This version is abridged and is a distillation of the "best" of the multiple-volume set. This distillation is itself over 500 pages, so imagine the impact of the entire set! The utter destitution of the London poor is set out in such vivid detail than one cannot help being shocked at the conditions human beings were forced to live in in the greatest city of its time. The only fault I find with this book is Mayhew's occasional lapses into preaching. Otherwise a fine book.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Should be compulsory reading !, 22 Nov 2011
This review is from: London Labour and the London Poor (Classics of World Literature) (Paperback)
First I read Mayhew's 'Characters', then this fuller version. Now I am determined to get hold of the original complete text. This book is surely a classic which will vividly open your eyes to just how hard life was for London's poor . Do you, for example, know of the 'pure finders'? - those who went gathering dogs' excreta by hand and sold basket fulls to the tanners for a few pence? or of 8-year old orphaned girls who went bare-foot to Covent Garden at 5 o'clock in the morning, all winds and weathers, to buy a few flowers to sell on ? I don't see how anyone could fail to find these books completely rivoting and to my way of thinking they should be compulsory reading for all school children (surely better than some of the drivel that passes for examination literature these days).
Individual verbatim accounts of people's lives are augmented by vivid descriptions of London and related statistics.
I look forward to a TV series which would surely be a hit as well as providing a social service of enlightenment to us all. Glib politicians who talk of 'lifting children out of poverty' don't know what true poverty is until they have read accounts such as this!
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a remarkable [hi]story, 23 July 2009
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Peter Gordon (Bournemouth, Dorset United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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I agree with the other reviewers in almost every respect. I thought that I might quickly tire of it or at the very least skip too many facts. But I couldn't put it down. I like to think that most of the quotations were verbatim and I suspect that reporters in those days were far more able than those of today who are armed with tape recorders or vivid imaginations!

The people who he interviewed were for the most part, very interesting and, within the limits of their education, articulate. Pity did not enter into my feelings because the people were all in the same boat and were not, as we are now, wimpish.

I intend getting the rest of these books.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It's a book you can pick up and dip into at random, 28 May 2012
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subject2status (Hampshire, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: London Labour and the London Poor (Classics of World Literature) (Paperback)
I am staggered by this book. I know there are faults with it but it really is an amazing piece of preserved history.

Having read the reviews here on Amazon, I was completely intrigued and after looking at a few different editions, decided to invest in this version of Mayhew's work.

The stories told by ordinary people about their lifestyle and hardships is at times heart-rending. Kids searching through mud, looking for scrap metal and finding it when it gashes their feet. The 'pure' collectors talking about the few pennys they earn by collecting dog waste. Accounts of real hardships that put us modern and well supplied people to shame.

I'm left with a feeling of admiration for the way in which these individual people overcame real tragedies and very tough times.

It's a book you can pick up and dip into at random so don't be put off by the number of pages.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars brilliant, 20 Feb 2009
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Alan Macfarlane (england) - See all my reviews
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This book is easy to read and full of very interesting facts and anecdotes. Not only are there many examples of the different types of occupation in Victorian London, but details are also given of the extent and income of each occupation and personal accounts, which means that it is not dry at all and a fascinating read. It was very interestingt to read about the real lives of people and the hardship they experienced and appeared to get used to!!
I could not put it down and would heartily recommend it to all.
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4.0 out of 5 stars An interesting insight into the conditions of the very poor in mid 19th century London, 1 Oct 2014
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This review is from: London Labour and the London Poor (Classics of World Literature) (Paperback)
An interesting insight into the conditions of the very poor in mid 19th century London. I used to think that Dickens exaggerated to make a dramatic or political point, but Mayhew's on the spot observations confirm the fictional backdrop. There are some interesting cultural insights too: Sam Weller's affected V-W swap wasn't a Dickensian invention. Some of Mayhew's interviewees used it. My only reservation about this edition is that it has been over-edited. Occasionally, you get the impression that too much of the text has been deleted for the sake of space. However, it doesn't happen often, and the volume is well worth the price.
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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars heart breaking and hard to read ( I found), 10 May 2009
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this book should be purchased more as a history book..not as a "reading"/novel as you can't really read it like that, at least i couldn't.
There is alot of info you might find yourself skipping/sifting through...but when you come to the personal accounts, then you read..and your heart breaks
Very worth reading, but quite depressing - i can do bleak quite happily, but this book is TRUE and very bleak which i found a bit of a killer
Excellent to buy for teenagers as a history book...it stops you moaning about silly things that's for sure
Please Lord may no child or person suffer like this again
God bless them all x
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Clear, presice and informative, 15 Nov 2010
This review is from: London Labour and the London Poor (Classics of World Literature) (Paperback)
Mayhew is unfortunately slipping from the general publics knowledge which is a shame. His ability to write clear and in most cases dispassionately is so informative of the social structure of London in his time. His use of facts and figures does not dilute the books easy reading style. For students it is a god-send, so many ideas but better still quotable statements abound.
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