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Likes of Us: An Official Biography of the White Working Class: A Biography of the White Working Class Paperback – 22 Jul 2004
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'A fascinating, entertaining, personalized and sometimes moving story of the rise and fall of this happy, close-knit breed' -- Time Out
'Collinss book may inform pre- poll debates. -- Boyd Tonkin, The Independent
'THE LIKES OF US, is fresh and fascinating, because it is the story not of a class but of individuals.' -- Jonathan Rose, The Daily Telegraph
'The Likes of Us, is fresh and fascinating, because it is the story not of a class but of individuals' -- The Daily Telegraph
'This vibrant, inclusive and compelling study crystallises an outrage at judgement from above when supposedly we are all bourgeois now -- I-D Magazine
As timely as it is compelling...If you want comparisons, think Tom Wolfe and George Orwell -- Michael Bracewell
Collins own memoir of his childhood is vividly written and genuinely interesting... -- Evening Standard
Thoughtful and provocative, it should be read by any fool eager to dismiss whole swathes of society -- GQ Magazine
Tremendous, absolutely essential book...lucid, poignant and historically precise...' -- Sunday Times
With THE LIKES OF US, Collins becomes an anatomist of England to dwarf almost all others. -- Bryan Appleyard, Sunday Times
The white working class is demonised. In the wake of the Stephen Lawrence inquiry, they were cast as wholesale racist cattle by the liberal press, the rightwing press mock their tastes and attitudes; they take to the streets when paedophiles and asylum seekers are in their midst, they expose their lives in TV documentaries, they love Gucci and hate the Euro...Michael Collins was brought up in Elephant and Castle, where his family had lived for generations. Here he looks back at the intertwined history of Walworth and his family, from his great great great grandfather's life during the establishment of an urban white working class culture in the 19th century, to his own upbringing amongst the new tower blocks of the 1960s. Along the way he discovers that middle-class condescension towards the white working class is nothing new. Missionaries from other classes have always descended to study, influence, patronise, politicise, socially engineer, and now to demonise them - including Henry Mayhew, Charles Booth, George Orwell, Jessica Mitford, Oswald Mosley, Nell Dunn, town planners and contemporary journalists too numerous to mention.This angry, yet tender book concludes with Collin's present-day return to the Elephant, to discover what remains of his tribe at a time of significant cultural change. See all Product description
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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.