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on 16 February 2017
A book which is as relevant today as it was when it was written. Tressell addresses the inequalities between the working and the ruling classes. The book has been written in such a way that the reader can empathise from Frank Owen's perspective, the way his co-workers are taken advantage of without them even realising and the methods employed by their bosses to gain maximum effort for minimal gain. Even the surnames of the characters gives you a glimpse of their personalities which come to fruition when you begin reading. Overall an outstanding piece of work and the book which other socialist and left leaning publications are judged against.
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VINE VOICEon 9 December 2015
This is one of the great political literary classics and was the book that switched me on to politics when I first read it. The story of a group of workers renovating a house (the Cave) in Mugsborough (Hastings) and a great expose of how they were exploited by a society and approach to employment that disenfranchised each and every one of them. One of the members of the group, Owen describes the theory of surplus value with bread and a knife in his description of the Money Trick and throughout the story other ways are described. There is a strain of sadness running through the book with the protagonists accepting that the conditions of home, life and work they endured were somehow all they were entitled to and they needed to accept that this was their place and role in life.

I really do feel this book should be available for students as part of the GCSE English curriculum.
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on 31 August 2016
This was on my 'should probably have read' list for a long time, and I started it months ago and despite months of effort I really have not been able to get into it, and at 72% in I have finally thrown in the towel.

It is clearly excellent as a record of the minutiae of the lives of the ragged trousered philanthropists (and the title is a brilliantly succinct expression of the entire argument of the book), and the argument for socialism vs capitalism is made carefully, unarguably and repeatedly. I did especially enjoy Owen's lectures on the causes of poverty, which are powerfully simple. Initially I was impressed by the detail with which Tressell describes the painting and decorating jobs (always nice to learn something new about obscure things), but as most aspects of this book, that quickly became repetitive too.

My issue is that, to all intents and purposes, this is not a novel. There is no progression, there is no story, there is no character development (as far as I can tell). Reading it felt like reading the first chapter of The God Delusion; I already agree with you! I don't need convincing!

I hope I haven't missed anything in the last quarter of this book that would have drastically changed my mind, but I physically couldn't bring myself to finish it. So I am left in a quandry, with a book that I really want to discuss with someone, but that I haven't enjoyed sufficiently to recommend that anyone reads it...
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on 4 August 2017
One of those philosophical arguments you should listen to before you dismiss it, you may change your mind. The times have changed but the state being burdened with the debts of private banks, politicians who ruined their countries living on unaffected pensions and being given honorary degrees. Homeless people in bed and breakfast hotels because the state had not built any housing in decades, leaking water pipes because no money was put in. Houses that were built with inferior materials and no fire protection, building societies where the CEO says she thought 100% mortgages were a bad idea but because everyone else was doing it they had to is the race to the bottom described in this book. Starving kids in India still make clothes for us in the same way it happens in this book, only now it is easier to ignore. This book was written as a warning and the lessons have been ignored.
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on 21 July 2017
A great insight into the lives of urban skilled working people in the late nineteenth, early twentieth century, constantly living in fear of their employers and on the edge of illness, old age and the resulting starvation. There is much discussion of a socialist utopia to come with benevolent state control of all our lives on the lines of what later came to pass in Russia after the Revolution. Robert Tressell did not live to see how his dream would be betrayed by power hungry politicians.

My own family were rural poor and, according to my grandfather (born 1878) in his childhood and youth lived mostly on the potatoes grown in their garden. Wages went on rent, cloth for clothes and especially boots which were a major expense for farm workers walking many miles a day behind a horse drawn plough or cart in all weathers. Of course, the urban poor had no gardens so sheer survival must have been even harder. My grandfather escaped(?) by joining the army.

This book is a useful reminder of the damage that can be caused to society of an uncontrolled free market with the least powerful being disregarded and driven to starvation by the more fortunate who themselves are driven by fear of poverty while a small group of wealthy landowners float above it all living a life of security and ease at everyone else's expense.

I now understand better the rise of the Labour Party in the early twentieth century and why Churchill, despite being a successful war leader, lost the election immediately after the war. Those servicemen who had fought to destroy Nazism wanted no return to the bad old days of the Victorian and Edwardian era.
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on 5 October 2016
A hundred years ago, working class people literally starved to death. If you didn't work, you - and your family - didn't eat. And there wasn't much work going around.
Now, it's rare in the UK for anyone to actually starve to death.
The Labour Party, after the second war, institutes the Social Welfare system, and the NHS.
But, it is remarkable how many of the core political principles brought up by this great work are still remarkably relevant today.
I understand Owens frustrations talking to his workmates, but I have the exact same conversations, on the exact topics, and with the exact responses, today, as Owen had 100 years ago.
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on 21 December 2017
An extremely important book with a message that resonates as much today as when it was first written. That said, this is not a conventional novel but rather a form of reportage. As such, the pace flags from time to time as we are given scenes that add to the overall message but left me cold and wanting to move on to descriptions of the characters like Owen and Barrington and Easton.

The most interesting passages are those which proclaim the message of inequality and the lies that are swallowed unquestioningly by the majority of people, the illogical defence of a system that exploits them and the wretched conditions that many people lived in.

Well worth reading but not if politics is something that leaves you cold.
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on 24 November 2016
I can't remember why I first read this book. It was in the 90s, and I saw it in a book shop. I think the title intrigued me, and I was looking for a book to read on a forthcoming cycling holiday. So this book ended up accompanying me around Brittany as I cycled from Cherbourg to Calais.

I found it a fascinating read. My political leanings are all over the place. Some left, some right. I am certainly not a socialist. However, this book sums up the basic principles of socialism in such an excellent fashion that it could make the most ardent tory think for a bit. Its a very enjoyable read too, and a fascinating insight into how decadent our home building practices have become.
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on 22 August 2015
This was an absolutely fantastic book. I really do think it's my favourite book ever which has really shocked me. I had heard of this book but it had always been 'sold' 'to me as a left wing outreach type book and, thus, it never appealed to me. When I was listening to a programme on radio 4 and heard a British comedian, Jo Brand, speak highly about it I thought I'd give it a go. She said that it was quite a difficult read initially but was well worth persevering.
I absolutely have to say otherwise. I loved it from the beginning. I enjoyed the irony of the names of the characters (sounding like their role), so many different characters, all very discrete, some to like, others less amiable. The thing that made the book so enjoyable was the vivid picture of people working in England at the turn of the century. The book is about a group of men who are involved in redecorating a house. We share their lives with them, their pay, how they make (and don't) make ends meet, death, unemployment, religion and, yes, socialism but these gentlemen were, literally, living hand to mouth and one can understand why they were thinkers in the group who felt strongly about society needing to change. It's not a book that sees the world through rose tinted glass. It really does tell things how they are - threadbare clothes, shoes held together with wire, malnourished, exhausted workers, death at work and even ending up in the work house and people doing what they needed in order to survive. It really was survival of the fittest. I think that this is an amazing book both in the way it's written but also the insight it gives us into our society at the turn of the nineteenth century. People say it's a rather long book but that never seems overtly apparent when reading books on an app such as a kindle and it definitely didn't feel over long to me - I'm sorry I've finished it.
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on 20 January 2018
What more can be said about this book that has not already been said
Tressel shows in a down to earth comentary the true living standards of the working class at the turn of the 19th/20th Centruary
When you read this book you can still see the similarities used by the media to demonise socialists and the left wing and how the Torys and Liberals lead the working class to believe that the problems of society were because of them and as usual the old slogan which is still used today of "We are all in this together"
A must read for any socialist
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