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4.5 out of 5 stars35
4.5 out of 5 stars
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on 3 June 2008
You'd think that a book entitled 'Real England' might have much of an audience north of Newcastle. But while the tales in this book, which detail the disappearance of local shops, the death of the farming community and the end of the pub, have a particular resonance for the English - who do retailing, farming and drinking better than just about anyone - the Scots, Welsh and Irish too can share the concerns raised in it. Because the sort of decline witnessed in this book is happening everywhere in Britain.

The book is relentlessly - and inevitably - depressing. That shouldn't be taken to mean that it isn't readable (on the contrary: I polished it off in a weekend). But the narrative throughout almost inescapably leads to the feeling that those small, almost unnoticed things that together made England special have passed forever. And yet... the author details pockets of resistance to the disappearing core of English life. Will this book inspire others to act, or simply a fine valedictory epitaph to England? Time will tell. But I urge you to read it either way.

I don't think other reviewers have mentioned the fantastic cover design - really clever and eye catching and a big factor in me picking up the book in the first place.
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on 1 July 2008
I've just read this and loved it. Kingsnorth writes passionately and, where needed, beautifully. Many of us will recognise bits of the picture he paints, but what he does is to bring it (the human impact of the destruction of English localities) alive in a single compelling narrative. You need to read this; and having done so you need to be angry. If you are like me you may also feel strangely drawn to wanting to buy Kingsnorth a pint.

A couple of observations. Part of the solution, he says, is to give local communities power over the matters which affect them, and he finds encouragement in the Government's "community empowerment" initiative. I hope he's right, but it must be doubtful whether the Government will let anything get in the way of national economic performance. The department responsible for community empowerment is also responsible for some of the main agents/engines of economic performance - planning, housing, and "regional development".

Kingsnorth's argument, rightly in my opinion, emphasises the importance of relationship to place in human identity. But relationship to community is also important, and doesn't get a mention. At the same time as place is being destroyed, communities are also being disrupted by the rapid demographic change resulting from increasing mobility and mass immigration. Part of the solution to this may be to rebuild community through sense of place, but this wouldn't sit easily with Kingsnorth's desire for continuity with the past.
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on 9 May 2008
I enjoyed Mr Kingsnorth's book a lot. I certainly was an eye-opener in many respects. The book discuss the fact that England (and no doubt many other countries - but this book focuses on England) is being effectively colonised by corporate power. The book illustrates the point by several examples; the takeover of pubs by chain pub companies, the destruction of the countryside way of life by agri-industry, the privatisation of public spaces to make them safe for high street stores and consumerism etc etc.

The idea expressed by the book is powerful and it does make one feel fairly angry that the government is unwilling or unable to stop the corporate takeover of the country. Given that more wealth and material goods do not make people happier (a proven fact) what are the benefits of this? Well the shareholders of the companies involved no doubt benefit but the cost is ruined ways of life, town centres with no local flavour which have all had the "high street makeover" and generally impoverished culture, not to mention damaged family lives due to increased work hours as a result of the perceived need to keep up with the consumers next door.

It is a pity the English do not stand up to this. Some might think this is just a nostalgic view of things but the author's point is that he is not anti-change but anti-inappropriate change. The only downside of the book is I would have liked to hear more about what can be done (only 1 chapter out of about 10 is devoted to this). After all the problem is not that people love big out-of-town supermarkets and the effects they have on once unique town centres, but it is more that they are so convenient for time-pressed people - the big question is how to persuade people to change their behaviour to dent corporate power and give the little guy a chance. Let us all hope it can be done before the whole country turns into one big corporate blandscape!
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on 25 February 2010
Even for those of us who are not English this book is a worthwhile read to awaken our rejection of the bland lukewarm so called culture of big business which is increasingly pervaiding our local environment. The author justifiably rants,not only against the cloning of English high streets by so-called developers, but also about the taking over of rural areas and rural leasure activities by those whose primary interest is in "making a fast buck"--usually by attracting yuppy weekenders to the exclusion of local residents. By so doing,usually without the involvement of local people, much of the attraction of the traditional long-standing character of the areas is lost only to be replaced with some sort of homogeneous mish-mash. This is not only denial of British democracy but a form of corruption in which big business rides rough-shod over the communities and local government planning.
While the book is firmly focussed on England the arguments are familiar to those in other parts of Btitain and even to those of us now living in other parts of Europe. Malcolm Kennedy
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on 9 November 2010
I am giving this book a high rating not because I agree with all of its points, but because I value the fact that they are being made. I likewise appreciate the different manner in which these points are discussed (being a series of reflections on the part of the author). This is not a singular thesis or novel.

This book's content is a refreshing alternative to those erstwhile "green warriors" who now talk about "environmental sustainability" in a fashion which - in my opinion - is not so different from the "Necessity is the Mother of Invention" mantra dragged out by most industrialists since the 18th century (at least). The approach of the author is the story-teller's observations and reflections made in the moment.

I note the "Dark Mountain" project which, with others, the author has lately organised. This stressed that everyone, who wanted to and could, SHOULD contribute their understanding to the debate.

For these reasons, I believe that everyone with an open mind will find something to enjoy in this book.
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on 31 May 2009
Where do you go to buy your plants, food, books, cds from?
Do you go to your local retailer, in spite of the fact that his/her prices are bound to be higher than the big suppliers?
Or do you buy them form Amazon, Homebase, Tesco... so as to save yourself some penies?
This book shows that the consequences of that simple, daily choise are indeed far reaching and momentous. It would be hypocritical and irresponsable to blame it all on the 'big and nasty corporation', when the fact of the matter is that if they suceed at all is because people like you and me support them with our choices.
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on 16 July 2009
This book does for England what Naomi Klein's "No Logo" does for globalisation: it draws together all the things you already know about English life in 2009, and forces you to confront how much we are losing and how quickly we are losing it. Canals, apple varieties, pubs, markets, independent shops and cafés are disappearing at an astonishing rate. Multinationals can do what they like and are accountable to no-one. Local Councils are virtually powerless. Government and the corporate world demand that every aspect of our lives be made to pay for itself, for that is the only way its worth can be gauged.

When you have read this book, you realise just how many aspects of our lives have been blighted. Kingsnorth evokes Cobbett's epithet - "The Thing" to describe what is happening. We have moved on from Left and Right, and Kingsnorth argues that it is time the English stopped being ashamed of themselves, and wrested our identity back from the hands of the racists.

Other reviewers are right, this book will make you angry, but not, I hope, in a negative way. I hope it will affect the way people shop, travel and vote.
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on 28 April 2008
I picked this up yesterday at one of the few independent bookshops still left up here in Yorkshire. To be honest I have no idea why I haven't come across Kingsnorths writing before (walking around with my eyes closed maybe?)but this book is a gem. I haven't quite finished it yet, so it's too early to give a considered response, but this is book is for anyone who isn't convinced that England and 'Englishness', individuality and diversity isn't disappearing before the corporate steam roller. It details the pockets of resistance to these trends in various communities (geographical & interest communities) up and down England. Oh, and it's not coming from some right wing little Englander perspective so anyone with left wing credentials need not worry about reading it. "In every culture in decline/Watchful ones among the slaves/Know all that is genuine/Will be scorned and conned and cast away."
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on 10 December 2009
My politically-inactive husband read this book earlier this year and it inspired him to start up a protest against plans for a giant sainsbury's supermarket in Penrith, Cumbria.

Since then he's read excerpts to the crowd of protesters from the top of a pillar box in Penrith and bought copy after copy, to give away in the hope of influencing local public opinion.

Although in one sense Paul Kingsnorth's book simply repeats arguments that many people will already be aware of, what is succeeds in doing is to bring them together in a very readable book at a critical time - a kairos moment book if ever there was one.

I'd recommend it to anyone.
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on 30 November 2009
This is a book that really fizzes. Paul Kingsnorth has a gift for lively, immediate prose that brings his discussion of the "Tesco-isation" of society alive on the page. He is angrily against lots of things, but in such a thoughtful manner that the book never becomes a rant.

The book is essentially a series of visits to people and places affected by the large forces that Kingsnorth sees destroying local communities across the country - a town in Norfolk fighting planning permission for a Tesco store, an Oxford canal facing commercial development, a Herefordshire orchard struggling to remain viable, and so on. From these specific examples he then draws out wider arguments about social and commercial trends over the last half century. I thought it was this grounding of fairly familiar themes in real human experience that made the book so distinctive.

A provocative, thoughtful read I would strongly recommend.
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