The Making of the English Working Class
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The Making of the English Working Class

4.19 of 5 stars 4.19  ·  rating details  ·  1,544 ratings  ·  52 reviews
This account of artisan & working-class society in its formative years, 1780-1832, adds an important dimension to our understanding of the 19th century. E.P. Thompson shows how the working class took part in its own making & recreates the whole life experience of people who suffered loss of status & freedom, who underwent degradation & who yet created a cul...more
Paperback, 864 pages
Published February 12th 1966 by Vintage/Alfred A. Knopt/Random House (NY) (first published 1963)
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Paul
Jun 13, 2014 Paul rated it 5 of 5 stars
Shelves: 18th
I read this whilst at University in 1979; all 900 pages of it. I thought then, and I still think that it is one of the best academic history books ever written. It has its faults and controversies, but it changed the way history was studied following its publication in 1963. Thompson put at the centre the study of class and looked at those outside of the powerful elites of church and state and most closely at the lives of ordinary people; the Luddites, the weavers, early Methodists, followers of...more
Cat
Well, it took me darn near a month to finish this monster (800+ pages) of a book. Can't say I regret the experience, though. Truly , this is a masterpiece, both in terms of its substance and its approach. I could quite easily write more then a thousand words on this book, but hey, this is Amazon, right?
Before I begin, I would like to state up front that I am not a historian or a graduate student of history. Please forgive me if my review contains incorrect statements.

"The Making of the English W...more
Jan-Maat
Somehow I suspect that more ink has been spilled on the insignificant Battle of Waterloo - insignificant because if not defeated ten miles south of Brussels on the 18th of July Napoleon would have been beaten somewhere else at a later date - than on Primitive Methodism yet to my thinking it is Primitive Methodism and other similar religious movements has had more of an impact on the outlooks, worldviews and cultures of millions of English lives (all the more so considering the knock on impacts o...more
Liz
it took me SIX MONTHS to read this, but I regret nothing
Jackie
Excerpt from my essay:

Evidence is perhaps the greatest problem in historical methodology. Whether a historical event is recent or remote, the historian is forced to proclaim a definitive analysis from incomplete information. While some factual conclusions can be made with relative certainty based upon hard data, other aspects of society are less easily measured, such as happiness or spiritual health. Should a historian be given the right to generalize about intangible sentiments that cannot be q...more
DoctorM
One of the great classics of radical history, and certainly a classic of social history of any persuasion. Thompson was a dissident Marxist, but his radicalism derived in many ways from that very English tradition of the Dissenting churches and the pre-Marxist labour movement. "Making of the English Working Class" looks at how disparate groups of lower-class Englishmen---- not just workers in the new steam-driven industries, but artisans and small farmers and skilled craftsmen and small shopkeep...more
Simon
OK, it's been on my currently-reading shelf for a long time. When I seemed to stall out at around p. 632, I know many of you were worried I would never finish it. But never fear, I braved the final 200 pages and made it all the way to the end.

A book so long contains many different things. Some passages were indeed difficult to get through. But many were absolutely fascinating.

The final chapter, about the Reform Bill of 1832, seemed particularly poignant in the light of the current debacle of hea...more
Richard Thomas
A seminal book that I first read at uni and I have come back to three times since. It is a book with an agenda whose author makes no pretense at hiding his sympathies and for which I remain an admirer. It looks at the cultural basis for the evolution of the workers into a class in the factory environment of Victorian Britain. In so doing he describes the class response of the wealthy and privileged to the aspirations of the poor and their traditional reaction of repression.

It is still a pleasure...more
Jonathan
Nutshell: "The making of the working class is a fact of political and cultural, as much as of economic, history. It was not the spontaneous generation of the factory-system. Nor should we think of an external force -- the 'industrial revolution' -- working upon some nondescript undifferentiated raw material of humanity, and turning it out at the other end as a 'fresh race of beings'. The changing productive relations and working conditions of the Industrial Revolution were imposed, not upon raw...more
Chelsea Szendi
Whatever flaws this book may have - the absence of women is a major one, yes - it remains incredibly exciting. The narrative is textured and compelling, and Thompson opens it up to so many voices that it really does convey a sense of the presence of the English working class at the site of its own production.

Every national history (and we can debate the dangers of a national history as an aside) deserves this additional treatment. Hagen Koo offers an attempt in the Korean case, and Ching Kwan Le...more
Brenda
The seminal book of the Century. Read this book at University and though it's not 'easy reading' as such, I found the subject matter very interesting and thought provoking. According to Wikipedia this '...is an influential and pivotal work of English social history, written by E. P. Thompson, a notable 'New Left' historian; it was published in 1963 (revised 1968) by Victor Gollancz Ltd, and later republished at Pelican, becoming an early Open University Set Book. It concentrates on English artis...more
Malcolm
One of the truly great pieces of British history in which Thompson, in his own words, set out ""to rescue the poor stockinger, the Luddite cropper, the 'obsolete' handloom weaver, the 'utopian' artisan, and even the deluded follower of Joanna Southgate, from the enormous condescension of posterity' and does so brilliantly. An enormous powerful book that helped reshape British social history, refocused English labour history, and shifted Marxist British history in fundamental ways. And on top of...more
Edd Yerburgh
What a beast.

Coming from a reader with no relevant historical knowledge, this book was both incredibly interesting and incredibly boring at the same time.

I would not particularly recommend this book to the casual reader who is not prepared to learn a lot of names and isms in order to understand what Thompson is talking about. I feel that I now have a much better understanding of the political, social and cultural history of the time. However, it is a HUGE book, and it is not quick reading or pa...more
Mardin Aminpour
In The Making of the English Working Class, E. P. Thompson sets out to “rescue the poor stockinger, the Luddite cropper, the “obsolete” hand-loom weaver, the “utopian” artisan, and even the deluded follower of Joanna Southcott, from the enormous condescension of posterity.” The book serves as a response and a reinterpretation of history against the claims of scholars like T. S. Ashton who sought to demonstrate empirically the improvement of the English working class under the Industrial Revoluti...more
Luke
Awe-inspiring historical writing, in research and reframing of the state of working-class organization, rebellion, and self-awareness in the midst of the English Industrial Revolution. Long, and ultimately worth it: I was particularly engrossed in the discussion of Luddism, of Owenism, and of the ebb and flow of organizations, clubs, and societies throughout these years in creating political counterbalance to the state's alliance with laissez faire ideology.
Wendy
For anyone who ever wanted to know more about the other 99% of the British population - those who actually worked for a living - this is THE BOOK. While the overall size of the book may turn people away, at several hundred pages long, it is packed with information that will keep you glued to the pages and not wanting to put it down - and, it is NON-FICTION. I absolutely loved this book, it now has a place in my bookcase because it is just that good.
Martine Bailey
I read this for A-level Economic History some years ago and was led back to it by a need to elaborate on the plight of handloom weavers in my current novel. It is a hugely impressive tome of a book, ground-breaking in its approach to working class history and full of wonderful snippets of authentic voices that would excite any writer. I didn't re-read it all but was fascinated by the influence of Bunyon and his rather lurid imagery on the working person, and also the history of early Methodism....more
Ted
essential book for working class studies.
Miquixote


Considered by academics to be THE 'exemplar' work of English social history. Also considered a core part of any 'left text' Reading list.

Despite it's status as likely the most intellectually important English history book ever written, this is not a universal history of England. It is about the development of English artisan and working class society from 1780 to 1832.

This very humanist book saved the forgotten impoverished, sometimes utopian, sometimes mystical workers of England of this fundam...more
John
I first read this at least eight -- maybe closer to ten -- years ago. Re-reading it just now is like finding a long-lost and beloved friend.

It is important not to allow the exertions of social historians since Thompson to color one's view of this book. Because it is the greatest work of historical scholarship and writing since Gibbon -- and maybe since Thucydides -- its influence has been enormous, and it has spawned imitation scholarship in every academic history department. Many of these subs...more
John
What do you say about a book like this? It is kind of brilliant. It is still vital for historians to have some understanding of this book. It could have used an editor (I sort of stole that criticism from Eric Hobsbawm). It has some sections that are maybe not quite as brilliant as other sections but still are worthwhile. It succeeds, I think, in doing what Thompson set out to do: rescue the working class of Britain from "the enormous condescension of posterity." It improves on the basic Marxist...more
Catherine
This book is considered a classic. must read for Marxist historians and labor studies. I've seen it cited more times than I can count, which is why I read it. That being said, I would not recommend it to anyone without a. an extensive prior knowledge of 18th-19th century British history, b. a need for a model or guide on how to write a working class history, and/or c. internet access to look up the dozens of terms and names the author throws about like they are common knowledge (which they may b...more
Simon
Like all classics, this work has its faults, but it remains a classic. The great irony of this history is that it looks at the English working class within a narrow framework. This has led to a distortion in the popular image of the role of working people played in England's history. In some respects it reflects the era when it was written (the early 1960s), when Conservative Prime Minister Harold Macmillan patronisingly told the workers that they "never had it so good" - and he was right.
Andrew
Mar 14, 2013 Andrew added it
Shelves: history
I should start by pointing out how little I know of the events in England that Thompson describes and their immediate consequences. Born in another country, my awareness of English history at this time was pretty superficial when I started writing-- Corn Laws, enclosures, Luddites, the rise of the industrial North... not much else. I've never read a line of William Cobbett.

But this is an at least intriguing history of the era, and, like Thompson, I'm bound to be pretty sympathetic to the struggl...more
Baris
Jun 28, 2014 Baris rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: comps
The details in this book might be little overwhelming. But its take on class, class consciousness and its historical construction is very inspiring.
Wm
I've run out of renewals so this one goes to limbo. It's fascinating, though, even if I don't understand many of the references and much of the context. It's also very dense -- not because it's densely written, but because it's packed so full of facts. It's truly a monumental effort and even with having only managed 163 pages, I can somewhat see where things are going and why all the little occurrences (and some not-so-little ones) are important to document in detail because it was all those fit...more
Rebecca
I read this about 30 years ago and it led me to major in history. I read it again in grad school while studying for prelims and it helped me think about how to write materialist cultural history. I'm reading it again now because it's the 50th anniversary and find myself writing down many quotations whole as I take notes. It contains some of the most provocative and thoughtful observations on historical change, class consciousness, and human experience that I've encountered in any book in any fi...more
Scott
Thompson shares the impressive legacy of struggle and the agency with which that class strived for a better life. He proposes class as a "historical phenomenon" understood "as a social and cultural formation." This is in stark contrast to Marxism, where class is defined by one’s relationship to the means of production. It reminded me Zinn's People History, though Thompson does not touch on women, the Irish or other factors that would paint a broader picture of the working class.
Seth
Thompson's version of Marxist history is humanistic. However, this is the reason orthodox Marxist's critcize him. Thompson isn't a hard economic determinist, indeed his concern is more culturally oriented. This is just a long monograph and, in my opinion, represents the last major wave of Marxist historians. This kind of history is bland, but it is influential, nevertheless. If you enjoy ivory tower Marxism, and the likes of Christopher Hill, you'll love Thompson's work.
Diego García-gil
Si detenemos la historia en un punto determinado, entonces no hay clases sino simplemente una multitud de individuos con una multitud de experiencias. Pero si observamos a esos hombres a lo largo de un periodo suficiente de cambio social, observaremos pautas en sus relaciones, sus ideas y sus instituciones. La clase la definen los hombres mientras viven su propia historia y, al fin y al cabo, esta es su única definición.
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86154
Edward Palmer Thompson was a British historian, writer, socialist and peace campaigner. He is probably best known today for his historical work on the British radical movements in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, in particular The Making of the English Working Class (1963). He also published influential biographies of William Morris (1955) and (posthumously) William Blake (1993) and was a p...more
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