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42 of 46 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Neither an elegy nor a manifesto
Like Michael Collins, I'm another working-white boy who made his way into the professional heartland of the bourgeois-left élite. Like him I get angry at the prejudices of the BBC and the Guardian, not so much towards me, but towards my family, my friends, and the people I went to school with. I enjoyed angrily shouting along with him at the rampaging horde of...
Published on 10 Mar 2006 by Gerard Lynch

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars memories
book is excellent history of neighbourhood where 4 generations of my family lived. it has thrilled my 90 year old mother
Published 19 months ago by Mel Metherell


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42 of 46 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Neither an elegy nor a manifesto, 10 Mar 2006
By 
Gerard Lynch "paddingtonw2bear" (Belfast, Northern Ireland) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Likes of Us: A Biography of the White Working Class (Paperback)
Like Michael Collins, I'm another working-white boy who made his way into the professional heartland of the bourgeois-left élite. Like him I get angry at the prejudices of the BBC and the Guardian, not so much towards me, but towards my family, my friends, and the people I went to school with. I enjoyed angrily shouting along with him at the rampaging horde of environmentally-conscious, organic food-eating, inverse racist media trollops who've taken over so much on Inner London. I enjoyed his bitchy putdowns aimed at a class who specialise in the bitchy putdown (for Mr. Collins has a wonderful line in invective). It was a joy to read a book written by and for 'us' for a change.
I enjoyed the in depth trolling through the history of his ancestors in Southwark, his accounts, laced with the right amount of working-class sentimentality, of growing up in the 1970s.
More seriously, I appreciated the way he deconstructed the media-myth of the working-class white as ill-educated, uncouth and prejudiced. London's working-class whites have been at the sharp end of multi-cultural Britain for 60 yeards and, in most cases, have adapted to it and even thrived in it. He lifts the lid not only on the poverty and squalor of life for poor Londoners from Dickens' era onwards, but also exposes the bizarre social experimentation imposed on the British working-class by the bourgeois left in fields from architecture to education, from the 1950s onwards.
And yet, this book could have been so much more.
London is not the be all and end all of the world, and the white-working class experience is radically different in other parts of England - from the all-white rust belt towns of places like Durham or South Yorkshire, to racially charged mill-towns like Oldham or Burnley to the Dickensian squalor and transience of the seasonal workers of South Coast resorts like Torquay and Brighton. And all this is even before you look at Scotland, Wales and especially Northern Ireland. While the rootedness and nativism gives Collins' narrative much of its power, it either needed to claim less or do more.
The book peters out in the end into a sort of de-emotionalised elegy, and an unrealistic one at that where drugs are somehow the final straw that destroys what generations of alcoholism and violence couldn't.
Where next for London's working class whites, whether remaining in the Inner City like Collins' school friends who still live in Walworth, or transplanted out to the ageing suburbs of Bexleyheath or Crayford? Collins makes neither predictions or proposals, and that I feel is a weak point that drags his thesis into the realms of the purposeless whinge.
Finally, I think the book needed to pursue a little further the connection between the middle-class missionaries of yesterday and today. Why did the vast improvement in material conditions of working-class whites (and working-class blacks and Asians) in the 1980s provoke such anger among the commentariat? Was it annoyance at their rejection of the great Socialist dream propounded through the schools in the '60s and '70s? Was it pique at losing the Cold War both at home and abroad? Was it disgust at seeing many of their social 'inferiors' pass them by in material wealth? Was it the increasingly obvious fact that working-class whites neither wanted much to do with bourgeois-lefty missionaries, nor needed them? Without understanding the bourgeois-left attack on white working-class culture it's impossible to get a handle on why it's become so hip to hate poor whites.
However, this is an eminently readable mix of history and polemic, and the very antithesis of the self-congratulatory establishment hype that spawned TV programmes like 'Lefties', and as such deserves to be read.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars memories, 20 Jan 2013
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book is excellent history of neighbourhood where 4 generations of my family lived. it has thrilled my 90 year old mother
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Controversial and necessary, 3 Mar 2010
By 
Mr. N. Foale "electronic word" (Devon, UK) - See all my reviews
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Do you agree that everyone deserves a fair trial, free of hate mobs? Including racists? Even working class racists? Why then did the liberal establishment collude (I know I did at the time) with the mobs who attacked the defendants during the Stephen Lawrence trial? With this controversial question begins a reappraisal of the white working classes.

It seems that in our multicultural society the only people who can be criticised at will are those who have actually borne the brunt of the influx of newcomers, i.e. the inner city working class. While the middle-class tut-tut from the sidelines, inner city demographics have been torn apart by redevelopment and social engineering. The author is a Londoner and faithfully portrays an example of the cohesive working class communities that, in living memory, were at the heart of British life.

The Lawrence case was ugly but so was the demonizing associated with it. So too the snobby use of words like 'chav'. This book suggests to me that many of us are in denial of where we are from, what we are living through, and how we might develop a fair society.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting history and good assessment of the Working class., 12 Jun 2012
By 
T. S. C. (Somewhere in NW England.) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Likes of Us: A Biography of the White Working Class (Paperback)
There's a novelty already; a history of the Working class actually written by a member of the Working class; what will they think of next?!

I bought this and read it over a few weeks off and on. I wasn't at all sure what to expect from this book, but have been pleasantly surprised by it. To be honest, it's a history of Michael Collins' London family throughout the last couple of hundred years or so, rather than a particular history of the Working class in general. But, this is no bad thing; his family are to my mind very archetypal Working class city-dwellers and there is for me a great interest in that alone. As well as talking about his own family tree, which I enjoyed, he talks about the way the English white Working class in general are demonised or patronised or targeted for well-meaning but often missing-the-point 'missionary work' by those educated Middle classes, who always seem to know better than us plebs about how to live life and how to talk and present themselves, and so on and so on. I guess if you're Working class (like I am) you've heard it all before and probably groaned time and time again, at the way even well-meaning Middle class people misrepresent and often totally misunderstand Working class people and our culture and the way we live and behave and relate to each other.

He also talks importantly about how White Working class people now seem to be the latest 'hate-figure' and how it's okay basically to attack White Working class people by nice, respectable Middle class, who, because they're not being racist or sexist or anything else, they can hate us without feeling guilty because of course all White Working class people are racist and sexist and misogynistic and uneducated and...you get the picture! Yes, even hatred and contempt seems acceptable, from people who proclaim to be politically correct and decent nice people. In short, it's OK to hate White Working class people but not OK to hate Black people or Asian people; we mustn't be racist now must we? But Michael points out the double-standards and hypocrisy of some Middle class people, and Middle class representation of White Working class people and culture; it's always usually negative or misread somehow. We need a voice, and we need people to hear that voice, or voices, so we are not misrepresented by other people, no matter how 'well-meaning' they may be.

Being a Working class boy myself, growing up in a Working class city in a rundown area as a kid, I identify with much that Michael has written and think that London's Working classes have much the same experiences as the rest of urban Working class culture throughout England. If only we could all stop hating each other, if only more Working class people could get on and have the same life chances as some Middle class people seem to, this country would be a better place. I have one thing to say to any Middle class person reading this; see in us the same light and spark of humanity that is in you and your class, don't patronise us anymore than you would like someone to patronise you and understand that many Working class people want to get on, have better lives, be educated, earn a decent living and be treated with respect, just as much as you would hope for all these things; OK?
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars About Britain's weakest and most vulnerable, 2 July 2012
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This review is from: The Likes of Us: A Biography of the White Working Class (Paperback)
I have a great affinity for Britain's native working class and fell they have been victims of gross social injustice through the centuries, with today those who discriminate against them and downright persecute them in fact being the Britain's modern left elite who have outrageously swapped the noble ideals classlessness to the vile multiculturalism and 'anti-racism' as the author explains in the latter chapters.
Multiculturalism and anti-racism are used as a stick to beat the British white working classes, who are the only group people in Britain it is acceptable for the chattering classes to mock and attack
As the brilliant journalist and true voice of and conscience and nonconformity to the prejudices of Britain's left elites , Burchill captured with great skill as the author quotes in the book in a 2001 article from the Guardian " What we now have is a new version of the deserving and undeserving poor-the noble new British working class, who are ethnic and the thoroughly swinish old working class who are white"
This consummate, passionate and humane biography of Britain's white working class in the 19th and twentieth century is social history at it's best tracing the story of the author's own family with a sympathetic but non uncritical look at the culture and history of Britain's most abused people. People who have nevertheless have a rich and vibrant culture, which is a victim of a new class war by Britain's left wing middle class privileged hypocrite elite.

The author covers much of the story from the viewpoint of the memories of his grandmother Nell Hall (Born in 1892 and passed away in 1991)The first three chapters cover the period of the industrial revolution when the British working classes suffered untold horrors, lived in diabolical conditions, and had no labour or human rights. If Blacks deserve reparations for slavery, then the equally miserable and cruel treatment of the British working classes at this time should entitle them to the same thing.There are chapters covering the immigrants from this class who migrated to the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. A fscinating chapter on late 19th century working class literature , a chapter covering the real admirable efforts of socialist reformers like Robert Owen and William Cobbett who rightly pointed out how it took "a despicable hypocrite to pretend to believe that the slaves in the West Indies were worse off than the (white British) slaves in the manufacturies" AS these and other European working classes are the people who inspired Karl Marx's writing, and not the Blacks and Browns of Africa and Asia, the modern left of today should hang their heads in shame at taking up the baton of the middle and upper class ancestors in oppressing the white working class in the name of the despicable multi-multiculturalism and 'anti-racism' .
There is a chapter on the tragic 4th August 1912 Boy Scouts Disaster at Leysdown, which was an event of great mourning for London's working classes. Then the author moves onto the beginning of social reform under the Labour Party, the heroic resistance by the British working class to Oswald Mosley's Fascist Blackshirts when the valiant English workers stopped a Black Shirt parade in Bermondsey in 1937.
Who could forget the deprivations suffered by the British working classes who won World War II for Britain between 1939 and 1945. The golden age of the white working classes was no doubt the 50's (when Labour began the social reforms such as NHS and social welfare and the conservatives became more compassionate and reformist, a processed reversed in 1979 when Margaret Thatcher revived the cruel war on the British poor) The goal of the British left in the 1960 was classlessness, laudable and noble goal, and has today been replaced by multiculturalism and 'anti-racism' who have replaced the British white working class despicably with the ethnic immigrants as those to champion and justify their snobbery as they label the white working class as 'racist chavs' to justify their newly restored snobbery. A fascinating nostalgic chapter on the author's school days in the 1970s which captures working class youth culture of the time in the multi-racial school the author attended (so much for the charges of racism the white working class is persecuted with)
Collins describes of a white middle class avant garde left-winger who had moved into previously working class area and complained the area is 'very white'
When the author witnessed this he remarks how he saw the 'urban working class white population booted as far below the stairs as it may have been in the 1890s'-so much for social reform.
HE also lambastes the media for sneering, prejudices documentaries where sound bites from selective interviews trump substance and real analysis in an effort to burn the white working class at the stake for 'racism'
This book is a magisterial work , of which few of it's kind tragically exist and combined poignant and pungent analysis with stinging social commentary.

The basic problem is that the privileged left and liberal elite are no longer interested in class equity or the basic rights of the British working class but only in 'non racism' which is a farcical label for favoring the third world exotic brown immigrants and persecuting and demonizing the local white working class who they label as chavs-not worthy in the eyes of the left/liberal toffs of having their suffering, feelings or rights considered. The British working class suffered as much in the Industrial Revolution as the Blacks did under slavery but are still suffering with the privileged elite classes using pc propaganda and favouring of the third world exotic browns against them.
Britain's indigenous working classes are put last in line for employment, council housing, health care, education and bank loans in favour of the exotic Third world immigrants (especially Muslims) favoured by the pc left elites.
. Those who are flabbergasted at discrimination based on race, gender, sexuality of religion (unless of course you attack Jews for being 'Zionists' or attack Israelis-that is acceptable among the chattering classes) think nothing of attacking the British working class and lumpenproletriat as chavs. This also translates to a politically correct anti-white racism. White British young people who suffer as a result of social problems such as juvenile crime, drug addiction , and teenage pregnancy, as well as child prostitution, and come from broken homes no longer elicit sympathy from the liberal and left elites who consider the white underclass the lowest of the low, not worth saving or empathizing with, whereas they would have the utmost sympathy and support for Third world immigrant youth under the same circumstances.
The liberal and left elites now use the race card against he white under classes and point out since the latter are supposedly 'racist' and 'bigoted' they must be punished for this and are the unworthy poor as compared to the impoverished people of colour who are deemed worthy of empathy and upliftment.
This amounts to an inverse racism whereby the classes that have so long suffered since the Industrial Revolution and who came under sustained attack under Thatcher are now being made victims again at the hands of the leftist and liberal elites now in charge of Britain, including the media, local councils and the courts. This is not a racist review as leftist correcto-fascists and reverse racist may charge but instead aims to speak up for Britain's most voiceless and unprotected.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting to the specialist, 18 July 2014
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This review is from: The Likes of Us: A Biography of the White Working Class (Paperback)
Although not skilfully written this is an otherwise interesting history of the author's ancestors in one part of south London from around 1800 to the recent past.

One perhaps for the academics rather than lovers of simple histories.

Mapping could be improved with greater detail.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Absolutely fookin' brilliant., 17 Feb 2014
This review is from: The Likes of Us: A Biography of the White Working Class (Paperback)
Absolutely fookin' brilliant. Seventeen more words required, apparently. Though I thought my input was rather witty and sort of representative. If you've ever had any interest in sociology at all, or indeed are bright and working class, you'll love this. It'll make you feel less alienated.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Superb Effort, 22 Jan 2012
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This review is from: The Likes of Us: A Biography of the White Working Class (Paperback)
Let me start by declaring my interest - I am a South East London boy from the very social background portrayed in this book. Therefore, as well as perhaps more natural sympathy towards both the subject and the author I also found the location and wider cultural references that form the backbone of this book more intuitive and emotionally-relevant than readers from further afield may do.

Is 'The Likes of Us' a perfect book, or even the complete history of the White Working Class? Most certainly not. It is a very good book that focuses on that very unique WWC that inhabited and to a good extent still inhabits SE London from the edges of what people call 'Central' to the Kentish borders. But what this book tells us from a wider standpoint is the story of a significant building block of modern Britain that too many - in the media, in politics, in society at large - have been a bit too keen to sweep under the carpet and out of sight in the hope it would go away.

By mixing the personal (the author's family history - here told with a sensitive mix of the 'official' and the oral narrative, not without a hint of understandable sentimentalism at times) with a wider polemic and a comprehensive body of research and quotations, Michael Collins delivers a very readable, emotional even, page-turner that is nonetheless rich on detail and the kind of evidence that isn't far off that of an academic study on the subject.

I can't help but feel that by adding the tagline 'A Biography of the WWC' the author or the publishers made a tactical error. This isn't a nationwide history of the WWC. It is a very geography-specific one. But the wider theme of the polemic is in fact a UK-wide one. To a degree, the same argument can be made of the WWC in the post-industrial North.

I will not comment here on the content of the book or the arguments pro and against the author's stance; this isn't the place for this. All I would say, touching on this matter, is that there is a quote towards the end of the book from a political think-tank summing up the 'mistakes' made by successive individuals and bodies in a position of influence on society when dealing with the WWC and the changing social and cultural landscape of the UK that, in my humble opinion, is the perfect counter-argument to those who have accused this book of being an apology for extremists.

All in all, a superb read.
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37 of 51 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Decent journalism, bad history, 6 Jun 2005
By A Customer
This very readable and absorbing book is ill-served by its publicity: the courageous analysis of British working-class identity promised by the blurb and subtitle simply never materialises. Instead we have a plodding local history of Southwark, with a handful of important polemical points tacked on as bookends.
Of these, Collins' central grievance -- that the 'whiteness' of the British working-class has been ghettoised by a leftish, cosmopolitan media class historically far less qualified to pontificate about racial integration and the impact of immigration than the 'white trash' they patronise and demonise -- is a familiar theme, not least from the journalism of Julie Burchill, the book's unnamed muse. The meat Collins adds to this bone of an argument is valid and worthy of serious debate, but badly needs an injection of economic and historical context.
Since the many strong points of the book have been widely praised, I'll briefly note a few misgivings about the book as a work of history.
Firstly, Collins is very dewy-eyed about the 'traditional working-class culture' of South London, which he describes with affection for some dependable, unchanging essence. It's as though this organic, face-to-face community had remained at the calm eye of a hurricane of historical change. Collins writes as though the social and economic meaning of 'working-class' was a constant from 1814 to the present, and that, essentially, the same sorts of jobs were done by the same sorts of people throughout that period. No account of the transformation of the labour force from an industrial to a service-based economy, to name only one massive shift, is offered; that Collins cites a wide range of slum novelists and inheritors of Dickens, but not Thompson's 'Making of the English Working Class', confirms the book's neglect of the economic. Market forces have, it should go without saying, been an overwhelming influence on the pattern and quality of working-class life, but you wouldn't guess it from Collins' account. Here, the social planners of the Nanny State (Oxbridge to a man) are the all-powerful force against which authentic community values are defined.
For Collins the unflappable working-class are publicans, market hawkers and cabmen, just like in EastEnders. Here he's in danger of replacing one damaging myth of working-class identity with another. Collins' working-class are a humble, unassuming, essentially passive lot, and only ever 'politicised' when meddling bourgeois missionaries or deluded demagogues stick their oars in. The history of trade unionism gets very short shrift by this view; so does politics considered more widely. For Collins, easy-does-it 'evolution' and good old English tolerance is the path to social progress, not radical ideas which attempt to transform history (at the expense of native traditions). This populist Burkeism is unconvincing, particularly in the face of the recent hyper-development of the South Bank; presumably to properly analyse this frenzy of property speculation in economic terms would smack of marxism, and hence bourgeois interference. Instead this phenomenon, and its social cost, are absorbed into a wider contempt for an influx of 'foreigners', media-types and rootless students. Does this problem really have more to do with cosmopolitanism than capitalism?
Secondly, Collins' assertion that working-class culture is to be equated with some kind of ethnic identification needs further analysis. The notion that 'working-class traditions' such as community spirit, patriotism and solidarity are to do with 'whiteness' or Englishness, rather than a shared position in the social hierarchy, is offered without argument. There needs to be a critical re-visiting of white British identity, but this book is not it.
This becomes most apparent in a brief dismissal (pinched from a Burchill column) of Robin Cook's claim that there is 'no such thing as the British race'. Burchill and Collins read this as an act of historical erasure of breathtaking arrogance. Perhaps they might consider that Cook is a Scottish MP, and that outside England there us a strong consensus that 'British' is a political, not an ethnic category, and moreover unlikely ever to shake off its (rightly unfashionable) imperial and military connotations. 'Britishness' is a canard: the white working class of South London are quite simply not the white working class of Leeds, Newport, Aberdeen or Belfast. This highlights what is perhaps the most conspicuous oversight in the book, considered as a work of social history: the role of nationalism. Perhaps in multiracial south London 'Britishness' persists as a political, non-essentialist landmark for cultural identification, but in Scotland it is dead. The story may be very different in Belfast, Newport and Bradford. The point is that British 'whiteness', like the working-class, is far more complicated than Collins allows.
This may seem like a litany, but overall Collins' book is informative, stimulating and provocative. I hope it prompts the sort of considered discussion it only occasionally offers itself. One final thought: it's interesting to ponder what Collins makes of the recent phenomenon of 'chav'-bashing, which goes curiously unremarked here. (Could it be because the 'chav' phenomenon is associated with the generationally unemployed, rather than the 'respectable' working-class? If so, this perhaps illuminates the problem with defining the 'white working class' as a unitary tribe...)
In any case, if you were interested in this book as a critical history of British white identity, I'm afraid it comes up short.
The following quote by Toni Morrison might lead you in more productive directions:
"If we follow through on the self-reflexive nature of these encounters with Africanism, it falls clear: images of blackness can be evil and protective, rebellious and forgiving, fearful and desirable -- all of the self-contradictory features of the self. Whiteness, alone, is mute, meaningless, unfathomable, pointless, frozen, veiled, curtained, dreaded, senseless, implacable. Or so our writers seem to say."
Toni Morrison
(Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination, 1993)
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77 of 111 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Great subject, needs a better author, 26 July 2004
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ZDDQ140770 - See all my reviews
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There is a new cultural snobbery in the air: its suddenly ok to discriminate against the poor- TV shows like Little Britain, Wifeswap et al make it clear that its ok to laugh at our underclass. With this cultural context, this book should be a breath of fresh air. Unfortunately, it fails on several levels.
The author is clearly passionate about the subject, and this leads him to huge number of wildly outrageous and often dubious conclusions. The idea that working 14 hours a day in factory in London is somehow equivalent in pity and moral outrage to slavery in the West Indies for example is clearly lazy thinking. he asserts that the opprobrium heaped upon the suspects in the Lawrence enquiry was caused by the the liberal media, but ignores the hugely influential campaign led by the Daily Mail. He assumes that everyone white in the London has lived in the same borough for generations, not bothering to look at internal migration from other parts of England, or emigration from Ireland and Scotland. He sees the working class as timeless, having been in the same state for generations without bothering to look at the effects of industrial decline since 1900, the dislocating effects of the war war or post-war planning. There is a bizarre attack on a newspaper columnist who writes of being offended by a rascist diatribe from a taxi-driver, as this is a betrayal of his salt-of-the-earth white origins.
Most of his rage however, is reserved for a perecived middle class hatred of the working class. He does not write that most of out great chroniclers of England's underbelly- Mayhew, Orwell, Dickens, even Cobbett- were drenched in middle class guilt. He perceives a middle class conspiracy to sideline England's white working class without looking at the context or reasons for such a conspiracy: the increased wealth of London, for example, the need for advertising-hungry media to espouse middle-class values to attract advertising for products for the middle class, possibly? He repeatedly asserts that white people cannot be rascist, as they intermarry with other races: using a dodgy pseudo-fact to provide a sweeping statement about all white people.
The book is drenched in self-pity, to the extent that historical fact or even historical analysis are completely ignored. He seems to evoke a dream of cockney barrow boys and costermongers which was already in decline in the 1950s, and as such seems to be defending a Disney-ike illusion. The author is plainly not a rascist- however his preference for outrage over reason, and use of anecdotal evidence over fact, and an ethical fuzziness will certainly play into the racists hands. Ultimately the book fails because his despite being subtitled "a biography", the book doesn't deliver any aspect of white culture worth celebrating, or even an accurate account of their development and decline.
Someone needs to write an elegy for London's working class, but to paraphrase Roger Scruton, needs to be aware that writing an elegy doenst mean wishing it could be preserved.
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