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Common People: The History of An English Family by [Light, Alison]
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Common People: The History of An English Family Kindle Edition

4.5 out of 5 stars 51 customer reviews

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Review

In illuminating her own, Light serves up the most powerful family history I have ever read. (Penelope Lively New York Times)

Light writes beautifully. With such colour and with perception and lyricism she clads the past....Common People is part memoir, part thrilling social history of the England of the Industrial Revolution, but above all a work of quiet poetry and insight into human behaviour. It is full of wisdom. (Melanie Reid The Times Book of the Week)

This book is a substantial achievement: its combination of scholarship and intelligence is, you may well think, the best monument you could have to all those she has rescued from time's oblivion. (Financial Times)

Evocatively written...a thrilling and unnerving read (The Observer)

Exquisite...Barely a page goes by without something fascinating on it, betraying Light's skill in winkling out the most relevant or moving aspects of her antecedents' lives, which echo through the generations. (the Independent on Sunday)

[A] short and beautifully written meditation on family and mobility. (the Independent)

Intellectually sound and relevant...a refreshingly modern way of thinking about our past. (New Statesman)

Light [is skilled] in probing dark corners of her ancestry and exposing their historical meaning...packed with humanity. (Sunday Times)

Beautifully written and exhaustively researched, Alison Light makes her family speak for England. (Jerry White, author of London in the Eighteenth Century)

A remarkable achievement...should become a classic. (Margaret Drabble)

About the Author

Alison Light is a writer and critic who is also currently a Visiting Professor of Modern English Literature and Culture at Newcastle University and at Sheffield Hallam University. She was born in Portsmouth, read English at Churchill College, Cambridge and was awarded a D.Phil. from Sussex University. She has worked at the BBC, in adult education, and also lectured at Royal Holloway College and University College London University. She spent several years establishing the Raphael Samuel History Centre in London. She writes regularly for the press, and also frequently broadcasts on BBC radio and on television. Her last book was the much-acclaimed Mrs Woolf and the Servants.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 3832 KB
  • Print Length: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (9 Oct. 2014)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00K6Y0HI0
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars 51 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #108,036 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I suppose when we go delving into our family histories, we hope to find the odd billionaire, a pirate, a famous actor or, at least, someone "interesting". Interesting and rich is a good combination. But most of us, like British author Alison Light, find solid citizens who live fairly quiet lives, passing along from one generation to another. A "family" that is actually a combination of tree limbs that come together to make one individual. We are a combination of all those who came before us. Alison Light, in her thoughtful book, "Common People", gives us brief histories of her forebears.

Light's ancestors really were "common people". Not an earl or pirate or rich guy among them. Most were economically of the working class (or sometimes lower in bad times), while some made inroads into the British middle class. Her "people", on both maternal and paternal sides, rode the wave of the economies of Victorian and 20th century England. Coming from Ireland, Wales, Birmingham, Portsmouth,and rural areas in southern England, they were often tossed in times of economic and societal need. Large families regularly lost members - young and old - to tuberculosis and other diseases that were particularly pernicious in the slums the families often lived in. Other family members spent time in "work houses", institutions for the real needy. Others died forgotten in the crude mental hospitals of the times. A few left for Australia - usually as penal deportees - but most spent their lives moving around the areas I've listed above. Curiously, no one seemed to end up in London.

Alison Light's extended family - from four or five generations back - really is the story of Britain and the affects of the Industrial Revolution. Her writing is always light and she tells the story of her people in almost a fictional way. But, her people were real, as are their stories. This is a really good book.
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Format: Kindle Edition
For anyone researching and writing their own family`s history this book will be a wonderful source of new ideas and information. As well as providing a compelling narrative it stimulates your own thoughts on `what might have been`. The quality of the writing is excellent, and the historical contexts of the characters are based on sound research. Genuinely the family history I wish could have written.
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Format: Hardcover
The author had very little information about her ancestors before deciding to find out what she could and write a book about them. Even her grandparents were a bit of a mystery, as she realized that she didn't learn a lot about their early life, and some of what she had been told might not be accurate. She had no doubt read about people finding noble ancestors a few generations back (as my father did) but she did not find any and warns people against expecting too much. We are all related somehow, but records for common people don't usually go back very far; if they did, we'd likely find that everybody has royal ancestors.

So this book is largely limited to discussion of the author's Victorian ancestors, with a few earlier ancestors getting mentioned if she has been able to identify them with interesting information. The result is a fascinating study of life in Victorian England. Although she clearly has Irish ancestors, she has no information about their lives before they arrived in England. Fair enough.

The saddest case has to be Sarah Hill, who was born while her mother was in a workhouse. Her father is unknown and her mother died less than a year later. A few years later, her grandmother took her away and placed her with another relative. Sarah eventually got married and had three children, one of them becoming the author's maternal grandmother. However, something (or a series of things) happened to cause Sarah to be sent to an asylum, where she died soon afterwards at age 53.

There are many other interesting stories, some of them also involving hardship. I wasn't sure what to expect when I bought this book, but I really enjoyed it.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
There were parts of this that I felt were deeply interesting...but quite often I lost sight of the family in the extra detail that the author gives. It's a fine balance in connecting the men and women to the greater world ...political and historical, domestic and international....and not losing sight of the main protagonists. I'm not sure Alison Light always kept to the main thrust of the narrative...but it was always interesting.
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Format: Hardcover
I have to say I was wary of this book at first. I thought it would be just a middle-aged academic exploring their personal history and getting sanctimonious about their working-class roots, 'I was born in a cardboard box' as Monty Python would have it. I was completely won over when reading it, a really good meditation not just on the author's own history but on the kind of processes that go into imagining the past. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As I am currently researching my own family tree, I just had to get hold of this beautiful book in hardback. This was such an inspiring read. I have mapped out my own direct ancestral line using Alison's template as shown on the inside front and back cover. I would heartily recommend this book to anybody who decides to do any family research.
I should also like to recommend another book for amateur historians, entitled 'Dipping into the Wells' by Angela Spencer-Harper.
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