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The Making of the English Working Class

4.18 of 5 stars 4.18  ·  rating details  ·  1,978 ratings  ·  65 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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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
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
A book I finished a couple of weeks ago and which I still cannot stop thinking about. It was hard to write a knee-jerk review because there was so much in there to process and absorb.

Long and in-depth but never dense, this is EP Thompson's masterpiece. It outlines the formation of a distinct working class in England, over the course of roughly 1780-1820, using the London Corresponding Society as a jumping off point.

I took my time with this book, treating it more like a study, really, making note
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
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
it took me SIX MONTHS to read this, but I regret nothing
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
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
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
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.
This review will inevitably be slight and unworthy of its subject, as I am hungry and want to go home and eat supper. Moreover, there is so much to this book that I hardly know where to start. Perhaps this is its greatest strength - it shows a diversity of experiences and details many geographically specific events, building up a fascinating picture of England from 1794 to 1832. I was delighted to discover how much revolutionary sentiment and upheaval took place during the period, as my fascinat ...more
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
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 ' 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
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
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
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.
David Mccracken
Really good. From the aftermath of the American Revolutionary War to the 1830s, it very expertly shows how the political goals of Paine are turned into the economic (and yet still political) goals of the English Working Class.

The research is incredibly good and the language is very modern. Sometimes it is very hard to remember that you are reading a book written in the 1960s about debates from the 1820s. In addition, some of the asides, especially on Methodism, are really interesting and provid
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
essential book for working class studies.
kai feng
I'll be honest: if I'd realised just how focused and how long this book was I probably wouldn't have read it. Still, I got through it.

It's definitely a book for the more serious historian. While it remains an important part of the historiography, it's too in-depth to be worthwhile to most people, and the debate has moved on since the 1950s. Someone who doesn't have a background knowledge of this period will be completely lost. I was grateful for what I remembered from an A-level history module a

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
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
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
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
Brian Day
Written from the perspective of the working class, Thompson pulls no punches in his criticism of the evangelical Christian Church and its dominance over the working class. Excellent scholarly work and a good starting point for a more down to earth undergraduate or postgraduate to explain its content to the average person in the street. Ironically, I don't think the average working class person would have the time to digest this book.
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.
David M
An important, valuable book, but honestly I found large sections of it extremely hard to follow. In over my head, often drowning in raw data. This isn't really a book for an amateur such as myself. Still, Thompson has an excellent prose style and a subtle intellect. His over-arching conclusions about the industrial revolution are fascinating and provocative.
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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
More about E.P. Thompson...
Customs in Common: Studies in Traditional Popular Culture The Poverty of Theory Whigs and Hunters Witness Against the Beast: William Blake and the Moral Law William Morris: Romantic to Revolutionary

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