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on 22 January 2012
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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on 15 January 2016
A must read for every "real" Londoner. Confined to history now, us WWC !!
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on 3 November 2016
great read
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on 18 October 2016
good reaf
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on 25 April 2015
An excellent view of the history of the locality
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VINE VOICEon 12 June 2012
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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on 11 September 2011
I have no hesitation in saying this is a truly excellent book. It is very interesting and well written and is not a polemic (as might be suggested by the title) but is measured and objective as anyone familiar with the work of Michael Collins might expect. (Collins recently, 2010, wrote and narrated an excellent television programme on the rise and fall of the council estate.) Collins, who is a journalist, has a nice dry style and in telling the story of his family has managed to produce an important social document. The author's family come from Walworth, immediately adjacent to the Elephant and Castle in south London. He begins his story several generations back and whilst moving forward through each succeeding generation he relates the history of the area. Key to the book, and of vital interest, is how his white working class family were effected by the various outside middle to upper-class `do-gooders' who presumed, and still presume, to tell them how they ought to live and, indeed, who took steps to dictate how they should live. There is a fascinating chapter devoted to an analysis of liberal `slum-literature' of the 1890s. Later, Collins relates in a very poignant passage how his family and neighbours who, having been passed over for generations by the country at large, were then called upon to do their duty and volunteer for action in the First World War to save this self-same country. Then came a moment of fleeting affluence in the 1930s only to be blasted away by the Second World War and, most disastrous of all, the urban renewal programmes of the LCC which completely devastated the social fabric of the area. This last change finally resulting in a great migration to the outer London boroughs. Collins deals very well with black immigration and opens and closes the book with references to the effects of the murder of Stephen Lawrence. Collins describes the demonisation of the white working class, again by the same middle class liberals, as routinely racist, right-wing thugs. This is a book written looking down the `telescope of life' from the `wrong' end, from the point of view of those who are always put-upon; the subjects of social surveys. This book, which contains much more of interest than my brief resume, is surely a `must-have' for any past residents of Walworth and the Elephant who would like to capture the nostalgia and feel for this part of London that has been changed beyond recognition. It would also be a very valuable learning experience for those who normally restrict their news intake to the Guardian and the BBC.
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on 20 April 2013
What the white working class has experienced and why some prevailing attitudes have developed.

Good on the period since the 1960's - maybe too much information about Victorian times.
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on 20 January 2013
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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on 18 July 2014
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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