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4.7 out of 5 stars
4.7 out of 5 stars
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on 21 July 2014
I found this, the story of Alan Johnson's early life, a moving and encouraging recollection of a desperately poor upbringing.
Abandoned by his father at an early age Johnson survived a very deprived childhood thanks to the efforts of his permanently ill mother and a particularly tough and determined sister Linda.
In the current political climate where an Eton education appears almost obligatory it was astonishing that someone from a background like this should reach high office.
Alan Johnson always struck me as a thoroughly decent, honest man who carried out his political career with great integrity. I think it is a great shame that he never challenged for the Labour leadership as I feel that he would have been, almost uniquely, a leader I would have trusted.
As a writer I think that he conveys the hardships of the working class in the slums of post-war London accurately and without the sentimentality so often employed in memoirs.
I look forward to the next instalment and thoroughly recommend this.
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on 19 May 2017
To call Alan Johnson`s childhood challenging would be a great understatement! In this account of his upbringing he rightly expresses his admiration for his two guiding lights, his mother and his sister. The life portrayed in this memoir contains scenes which seem like something from a novel by Dickens, so it is good to be reminded that such a hand-to-mouth existence was normal for too many folk as little as fifty to sixty years ago. This work is highly recommended as a very readable social document regardless of one`s political leanings.
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on 20 March 2014
It is rare that I choose a book written by a politician, but I’m very glad that this one caught my eye. I had seen Alan Johnson being interviewed about this memoir of his early years in London and wondered how he eventually became a cabinet minister in the Labour Governments of both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. He described his home in Southam Street in North Kensington; it is hard to believe that slums like this still existed in the mid 20th century. However, what really piqued my curiosity was the fact that Alan Johnson began, in his interview, to mention places that I had known as a child. I had to read this book!

I was enthralled by this memoir. Johnson’s writing flows and he has the ability to paint pictures with his choice of vocabulary. It was easy to imagine him, as a young boy, battling with the poverty that surrounded him. His father abandoned his wife, daughter and son for another woman, leaving Lily Johnson to wear herself out, trying to provide for her young family. Linda, Alan’s older sister, offered real strength and support to their mother and one has to admire her, especially after the death of their mother. Linda’s fight to maintain a home with her brother, Alan, is quite amazing.

There are no real indications in this memoir that Alan Johnson will go on to be a prominent politician, but it is such an interesting book. As I said earlier, I have a personal interest and there were many times that I exclaimed at the mention of another occurrence or place that I knew so well. There is also much to interest anyone studying the social history of London life in the 1950s and 1960s.

All in all, I thoroughly recommend this absorbing memoir.
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on 30 July 2017
The really striking thing about this book is how much Alan Johnson plays down the difficulties of his early life. He has a very understated way of writing that made me really warm to him as a person. The hero of the book is undoubtedly his sister who takes on the responsibility of caring for both herself and her younger brother. The degree to which they are pretty much left to their own devices is really quite shocking and the reader can only admire the determination shown to come through all the trials that come their way.
Ultimately this a book of overcoming enormous early years stresses that eventually leaves wih a very warm feeling.
A wonderful book
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on 15 February 2017
Fantastic evocation of a poverty-stricken 1950s childhood but done without the sentimentality usually associated with such things ("hard life" books). Also, as you would expect from a politician, a reflection on the wider issues of the time.

Written without the self-justification you often get from politicians.
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on 23 January 2015
Alan Johnson's journey from an impoverished childhood in London to the corridors of political power is engaging, beguiling and inspiring. His early life was short of worldly riches but blessed with the love of two remarkable, strong women - his mother and his sister. Hard-wired with an optimistic, inquisitive and resilient nature, Alan Johnson comes across as wise, intelligent and kind. Reading his story has been a joy - and I look forward to enjoying the next installment.
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on 30 June 2017
Avoids sentimentality by virtue of his matter-of-fact reportage of growing up in North Kensington, London. Think Angela's Ashes-lite though this is not to denigrate either book. His mother and sister are lovingly but no way cloyingly described, his father should bow his head in shame (in Hades now though again the hyperbole is mine not the writer's). So many apercus of working-class 1950s life, including the moving episode of Cheeky the dog ( whose nemesis is Alan Johnson's absent father) and our young protagonist's witnessing of teenage flirting. To think the author was to become Home Secretary. As testament to this first volume one certainly wants to read on.
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on 26 December 2014
Absolutely excellent. Extremely easy to read, informative and illuminating. Alan, his single mother and sister Linda survived almost uninhabitable conditions right into the 1960s. I was amazed such accommodation still prevailed as late as that. I am in awe of Alan Johnson and his sister rising above such a start life to become commendable citizens. Much deserved credit to Alan's sister Linda for the way she took over their mother's role, bringing up Alan until he was able to be independent, whilst dealing with numerous difficulties. Alan writes in a readable, entertaining manner, but it would also be inspiring to hear Linda's story, written from her own perspective. Thank you for sharing your memories.
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on 27 July 2017
A great read. Alan Johnson suffered miserably in his early life, but he's written his book without feeling sorry for himself. Sure, there are some incredibly sad moments, but also plenty of humour and hardly a whiff of politics. This is how life was for Alan because he didn't have a choice in the matter, so he just got on with it. I now know the man better and have complete respect for him.
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on 25 June 2017
Johnson's no Hemingway, but he describes the true poverty of the early fifties with eye-opening clarity. I also had no idea he was seriously set on becoming a pop musician in his teens.
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