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4.4 out of 5 stars42
4.4 out of 5 stars
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on 18 April 2014
I very much enjoyed reading this history of the last hundred years written from the perspective and with a focus on the working class.

The first-person case studies bring the book and the history alive. They capture the solidarity, the struggle, the achievements and the advances of working people over this period. Thankfully the book does not romanticise or patronise.

In The People Selina Todd reminds us that some of the fundamental issues of inequality and imbalance of power are woven throughout this period and in many senses are more acute today. It also reminds us that governments have sought to reduce benefits and collective rights before; and that positive state led intervention and redistribution can make a positive difference; and that collective social action at local and state level is important.

Selina Todd has written an easy to read but provocative and challenging book - challenging not lest because all is still not alright and much remains to be done to secure greater equality. However, the real differences today are even more exaggerated with the super rich and the vilification of the very poor.

This book should be read by those interested in social history, politics and fairness.
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on 20 April 2014
The People. The Rise and Fall of The Working Class 1910-2010

My dad is my reading alter-ego, his birthdays and Christmas provide me the opportunity to buy the books I'd like to be reading as presents for him. He loves books on history and politics, I do too but generally struggle to find time to read them.

For his 86th birthday I bought Selina Todd's book and when it arrived I glanced at the cover and started to read the introduction, I was hooked.

My dad left secondary modern during the second world war, he worked in various manual and semi-skilled roles, was conscripted at 18 and developed his socialism via his life experiences and involvement in the Communist Party in 1950s, trade unions and the Labour Party from the 1960s. He found his way into white collar work and has since read bucket loads of books and writes pages of letters to the local newspapers in the north-east of England on a range of political issues. I tell the story of my dad as I'm proud of his achievements but also as it is the sort personal story that Selina Todd uses to chart working class history.

Throughout the book Selina Todd offers interludes from the life of Viv Nicholson who won the pools and "spent, spent, spent" but ultimately lost her wealth.

The People is full of facts, discussions of working class campaigns and injustices but what brings the history to life is the personal stories such as George McCartney, "The volunteers viewed themselves as the guardians of democracy. George McCartney, a Scottish volunteer, was certain that his peers didn't go to Spain to usher in Communism or anything like that. He went to Spain to continue the fight for freedom of a people to put a cross on a ballot paper."

The book opens with accounts of life at the beginning of the 20th century of people working in domestic service, the biggest single group at the time of working class men and women. A group that were often regarded as possessions by their wealthy employers.

The feminism that is evident throughout the book is energetic and inclusive. The stories of women campaigning provides a refreshing counter-balance to an often male orientated discussion of political struggle. The fight for universal suffrage describes both the unfairness of an electoral system that excluded all women and 5 million men without property. The bravery of the women like Hannah Mitchell who said, "without us having the vote, no one would ever put paid to the life of drudgery that trying to make ends meet caused us" is inspiring to read.

While the book is uplifting, it's also depressing to realise that the demonising of people in poverty we currently see is replicating the media's divisive portrayals poverty in the 1920s and 1930s. The policies of Baldwin's Conservatives mirror those of Cameron's coalition.

Selina Todd charts the success of the Labour Party in 1945, "Kitty Murphy was among those first time voters who put Labour into power. She had grown up in the East End of London, and had witnessed the effects of unemployment on her father and uncles. By 1940 she was a young married woman, working in the Woolwich Arsenal with her mother, father and younger brother while her husband fought abroad. In 1945 she was demobbed and cast her vote while awaiting her husband's return. The Labour slogan - "Never Again" and "Ask Your Dad" - made sense to her. "We didn't intend going back to how it was," she explained. "The Labour Party promised us that they'd do this and they'd do that and they did, they'd done it...whereas I don't think that would have happened had Churchill got back in" "

The examination of the post war Labour government both celebrates the successes of a reforming government but critics it's meritocratic method instead of an approach championing true equality. It left a question whether the 1945-51 government could have managed public ownership differently with greater worker involvement in running industry.

The post war period outlines how conditions for working class people improved as did aspiration. However, the hard work and drudgery is also clear. A search for a new Jerusalem was not as successful as Macmillan's assertion that people had never had it so good.

Selina Todd challenges the often fashionable argument about the positive nature of the grammar school system, that's an area my dad will enjoy, his experience in 1939 of failing the 11+ stuck with him.

The 1960s charts the struggle for equal pay, the exhausting nature of manual and process work and the often inhumane way immigrant workers were treated. The period saw gains in wages but economic and political power was still held outside the working classes.

The story of Jayaben Desai, an Indian woman and leader in the Grunwick dispute challenged assumptions about both the role of women and immigrant workers in accepting the status quo. While the strike was ultimately unsuccessful it did offer optimism about working class solidarity across gender and race in the 1970s.

Reading a history book about the period after 1979 seems strange. I remember those years vividly, I remember my teachers working to rule, the attacks on trade unions, the unemployment (and fear of it) and the vilification of those who need benefits. Selina Todd brings these memories back and reminds the reader of Thatcher's mantra of individuality.

The story of the working class is not drawn to a close in 2010 but is simply punctuated. Britain remains unequal, more unequal than in 1979. Trade Unions have been weakened and consequently people still are striving to have access to economic and political power. The working class has changed from 1910 but it is not unrecognisable. The story of the 100 years from 1910 offers hope of progress, highlights the importance of aspiration and recognises the necessity of organisation of the working class through the Labour movement.

I'll wrap the book up for my dad. He'll be delighted I've read it and I can be sure of a great discussion of the history through the prism of his experiences, his reading and his interpretation of working class history.

I hope whoever writes the history of the people from 2010 to 2110 will write a different story about how the Labour movement wins the argument for more equality and more importantly manages to wrestle the economic and political power to make it a different reality in the future.

A brilliant account. Thank you Selina Todd.
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on 21 February 2015
Selina Todd has written an outstanding and authoritative account which validates in a profound and sensitive way the lives and histories of working class people. She has achieved this to a large extent by drawing on first person accounts of working class experience - factory workers, miners and importantly, housewives. Throughout the book, the female perspective is given equal weight with balanced and thoughtful consideration and analysis. Perhaps the most impressive achievement of the writer has been her ability to avoid glorifying or mythologising the experiences of the working class and yet at the same time provide well-reasoned discussion and explanations for what became the fabric and framework of working class history. This is powerful stuff ! A tale hitherto untold. As Selina Todd herself says, she "searched fruitlessly" for aspects of her own family's story when she began her academic career. A real sense of one person's experience of being working class is provided through pools-winner Viv Nicholson, whose personal story Todd skilfully weaves in and out the pages of the book. Well-researched, taking account of social, economic and political perspectives and enhanced by reference to surveys, studies and statistics, the author never lets the data detract from a 'story' which is always lively and often compulsive reading. Although the book encompasses the current century, less attention is given to these years. Leaving this aside, if you are a 'baby-boomer' or of similar age and have working class roots, you could well find yourself tearful as you come to the end of this book for it gives meaning, expression and a voice to your own life experience.
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VINE VOICEon 23 August 2014
Selina Todd's passionate and committed history of the Working Class over the century between 1910 and 2010 has elicited some essay length reviews - a few very highly critical - here on Amazon. I think the response has been a vindication of Todd's book. People have reacted either very positively or extremely negatively to it, largely depending, I guess, upon their own particular political positions. However some reviewers appear to attribute to the book views and opinions which it does not in fact express and in doing so seem to get quite hot under the collar. For example, Todd is not guilty of the charge that she believes "Labour is always good, while Conservatives are always bad". On the contrary, most politicians of whatever hue are given a good drubbing throughout, with the possible exception of the great Ernest Bevin - born in a tiny cob-built cottage less than a mile from where I tap these lines out on my keyboard.

I have no intention of writing an essay here. Selina Todd's book is a highly worthwhile work which is both passionate and committed, and whose political stance is entirely unambiguous. One reviewer on Amazon stated that historical writing should always be objective and quoted Ranke in that connection (that's Theodor von, not J Arthur, in case there's any confusion). Objective history can be very, very dull. Many of the experiences related in "The Rise and Fall of the Working Class 1910 to 2010" are now beyond living memory and for that reason alone we need this book. If any of us forget what our parents' and our grandparents' lives were like (assuming we are not the Duke of Westminster), the Old Etonians will be running the entire show and we'll only have ourselves to blame!
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on 19 February 2015
Excellent book to understand the story of 20st century through the ignored eyes of workers.
Writing an historical book (full of interesting facts) as a novel is perfect.
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on 20 April 2014
They always say that history is written by the victors; consequently, much of written history is about Kings & Queens, Dukes & Generals. I always found this hard to swallow, as I have no affinity with any of them.
Recently though, the excellent David Kynaston has begun to "right that balance" to a degree, with his volumes based upon Mass Observation records. Here we have someone also documenting the experiences of ordinary, REAL people.
Ms Todd has roots in this community, and writes from a position of strength as a result. There is warmth and empathy, and an understanding of her subject matter that comes from that knowledge. Similarly, the role of women in this history isn't marginalised, as is often the case in many works. I look forward to her future output. PK
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on 15 September 2015
A fabulous read that shows the heroism and dignity of working class men and women as they strove to create a fair and just society in the Inited Kingdom. This book should be a compulsory study for all those who look at the current political scene and despair. Highly recommended.
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on 30 April 2015
Excellent and thought-provoking - I learned a great deal about a country I still call home, although my parents emigrated to Southern Africa when I was 9. Social history has become a passion, and this book opened my eyes to aspects of British life that I had not known.
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on 1 July 2015
I'll not duplicate some of the other disapproving reviews. Like them, I'm on the left but irritated by the polemic. I expected to see disapproval from Daily Mail readers but I reckon they just got bored and chucked it after page 5.

Chiefly I hated the monochrome. Everything that happened to the people was bad. The book is heavier on personal accounts than on hard statistics and there is a sense that she is only interested in personal accounts if they're depressing.

Military service in WW II is dismissed as unpopular and badly paid. My father flew bombers towards the end of the war and for a Clydeside apprentice, this was educational, healthy and liberating. My father-in-law, in the navy, saw Ceylon (Sri Lanka) at the age of 19. Now I'm not suggesting that this was an acceptable payback for 75 million deaths but it was a common experience which she ignores.

Those of us who were educated at working class schools in the 60s had a good chance of rewarding and involving employment. IT was a field that was open to entry for all. In fact until the mid-70s, its lack of structure meant it was open to non-academic entrants. An oddball on the shop-floor could easily find himself transferred to the computing section. She ignores these opportunities in her picture of constantly closing alley-ways.

She pictures the strikes of the 1970s as a purposeful cry against Capitalism. well the Builders' Strike of 1972 was a real strike for real goals. I was on it (as a student doing holiday work) and the shop stewards on our site were the best craftsmen and men to admire. In a weak union on a small site they had to be good. By 1978 I worked in a major industrial firm in the same town. The shop stewards were bullying and often criminal. Within a fortnight of starting I was on strike for a day. The union TASS had poached a member from my union (ASTMS). So we went on strike... I finished the decade on a fully paid lock-out because the AEU was striking for industry-wide terms (all of which we had already on our site.) So the company closed the plant down for the duration. The AEU caved in after a fortnight but I was overjoyed at my paid holiday. I mean I was short-sighted but the AEU was ensuring Mrs Thatcher's election.

She criticises Thatcher for politicising the miners' strike but lets Scargill off the same hook. She admits the government were ready to settle at an interim point. If it had been a genuine trade dispute, the miners would have settled and legitimately claimed a win. But Scargill was fighting his revolution so he carried on and lost.

At one point I was reading a couple of the depressive personal narratives and thinking, she can't honestly believe this. It turned out she didn't. She annotated them, saying that even if these stories aren't true they show how people felt. Well that's great, there's no statistical rigour and even the author doesn't believe the stories she's quoting.

She dismisses Lucky Jim at one end of the book as a university comedy. Then at the other end of the book she goes off on a rant about the toughness of the university life. If she'd ever read the book she'd find it illustrated her rant but with rather more wit.

She says she was only able to trace 20 out of 300 of her year at school to interview. Now probably this is laziness. Using social media I would guarantee to trace 95% of my far more elderly generation within a week. But I like to think instead that she just got fed up when each person she contacted said "Oh it's yourself, Selina. Jaysus, are you still a moaning git?" and just stopped.
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on 6 June 2014
She writes this in a really interesting way - using stories of real people. There is a strong bias towards the working class - but I enjoyed that.
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