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No Mean City

3.84  ·  Rating details ·  256 ratings  ·  21 reviews
No book is more associated with the city of Glasgow than No Mean City. First published in 1935, it is the story of Johnnie Stark, son of a violent father and a downtrodden mother, the 'Razor King' of Glasgow's pre-war slum underworld, the Gorbals. The savage, near-truth descriptions, the raw character portrayals, bring to life a story that is fascinating, authentic and con ...more
Paperback, 320 pages
Published September 29th 1978 by Corgi (first published 1935)
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3.84  · 
Rating details
 ·  256 ratings  ·  21 reviews

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Nov 08, 2011 rated it it was amazing
My mother and father emigrated from Glasgow, Scotland after the end of WWII, and when I was a child in the 1970s, I recall going back to the "old country" every year or so to visit relatives. Through my preadolescent American eyes, Glasgow looked like something out of another era. Coal was still being used for household heating, milk was still delivered in glass bottles, everybody smoked either pipes or cigarettes, and dirty-faced little boys ran around the streets selling papers. My grandfather ...more
Jan 31, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I first read this book as a 15 year old schoolgirl, preparing for my Highers and I was hooked instantly ! It describes the gritty Gorbals slums of the pre-war era (1920s/ 30s) and the razor gangs therein. The struggles of those who live in the slums and their desire to move onto better things and how they seem to be thwarted by the collective consciousness that you’re somehow a ‘snob’ if you want to get on in life. The only other choice for some is to ‘protect’ their territory and ‘prove’ their ...more
Jun 16, 2015 rated it liked it
This book primarily deals with the poverty in the slums of pre-war Glasgow. I found it to be quite horrendous in places, particularly in the gang mentalities and how difficult it was for people to get into an education or a career which would be good enough to allow them to escape the slums. It made me wonder whether I would be able to better myself in such a situation, and the answer was - probably not.

The lives of all of the inhabitants of this novel just seem so incredibly depressing, and fil
John Moulton
Feb 13, 2017 rated it liked it
No Mean City is a 1935 work of fiction that tells of life in The Gorbals district of Glasgow, Scotland. Written at much the same time that the novel depicts, it pulls few punches about the district's street urchins, gangland thugs and the few with ambitions to move on. The main character, Johnnie Stark, sees no future beyond The Gorbals and instead fashions his life around being 'top dog' in the dank and miserable arenas that are the tenement buildings and miserable public houses. Johnnie's keep ...more
Miriam Smith
I did not finish this book, not because of the story line or writing because what I did read of it was very good, I just could not understand or get away with the very broad Scottish dialect which made the continuity of reading very difficult. I may come back to it one day - it's a shame because the story was rolling along quite nicely.
David Mclaughlan
Jan 26, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Having grown up in Maryhill In Glasgow and spent 25 years in the city I recognise the culture but not the time. Glasgow has moved on but you could still find this aspect if you so wished. I love Glasgow it' is a hard city but with a big heart.
Mar 07, 2019 rated it did not like it
read paperback
David Ross
Mar 10, 2017 rated it liked it
An exciting enough story from a historically fascinating time in Glaswegian history but unfortunately flawed in that it feels more like an anthropological study by an outsider than it does a recounting of the author's own life as a Glaswegian. Where a more modern Scottish author like Irvine Welsh is unapologetic in his language and the culture, here it comes with translation for a more Anglo-friendly reading. Although it might sound trivial, this problem was quite symbolic of the book. I felt th ...more
Gordon Davie
May 01, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This book at been on my radar for years now and I have finally gotten around to reading it. I picked it up from my local library. As a native Glaswegian this book is famous and as the cover states (bearing in mind this is an old copy) over 500,000 copies sold. It is a brutal account of the Stark family's life in the poverty stricken slums of Govan, Glasgow. The 2 Stark brothers Peter and Johnnies rise to power in the most different ways. Peter who's aim is to better his life by climbing the soci ...more
May 11, 2008 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Kevin McDonagh
Jan 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: scotland
A family of eleven sharing a two roomed apartment in Glasgow is hopefully consigned to history. More’s the pity however there is still much to identify with in the protagonists. The class conscious attitudes to ambition, respect and politics remain familiar to Glasgow 100 years later.

"Whit dies it matter to the heid yins what happens in Gorbals or Bridgeton of Garngad or Anderston, or in any other bliddy slum in Glasgow for that matter, so long as we keep quiet? Do they care hoo we live or whit
Jul 16, 2014 rated it liked it
A rather depressing book dealing with the dark side of Glasgow's slum world, in one of it's most infamous and toughest neighbourhoods, the Gorbals. Johnnie "the Razor King" Starks is the despicable gangster who loves to fight with razor blades and pummelling every woman in his life, a real charmer.

Glasgow has its hard history, and this book goes out of its way to glorify it.
Sep 02, 2011 rated it it was amazing
No book is more associated with the city of Glasgow than No Mean City. First published in 1935, it is the story of Johnnie Stark, son of a violent father and a downtrodden mother, the "Razor King" of Glasgow's pre-war slum underworld, the Gorbals. The savage, near-truth descriptions, the raw character portrayals, bring to life a story that is facinating, authentic and convincing
Aggy Delvulij
Mar 29, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Great book first read it almost 40 year ago takes you into the Glasgow of that era and gives a sense of the poverty and despair that the people must have felt at that time, it could have been based on the real life person called Billy Fullerton leader of the Brigton Billy Boys
Sep 11, 2011 rated it liked it
Very interesting insight to Glaswegian culture in the 1920s and beyond.
Nov 03, 2016 rated it liked it
A strong evocation of a time and a place, while also a timeless depiction of the harsh, hopeless nature of poverty.
Sep 09, 2013 rated it liked it
Gritty & hopeless. I thought the story was quite fascinating and love the depictions of life in the slums. It was a real eye opener. The whole book left me feeling sad though.
Oct 25, 2012 rated it it was amazing
One of my all time favorite reads.
Jul 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: scottish
Glasgow as it was, and sometimes still is. If you love hard city with a soft heart then you must read this classic book.
Mara Eastern
Feb 26, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: glasgow, fiction
Unsavoury and sensational. An exercise in naturalism without artistic pretensions but of documentary interest.
Sep 28, 2013 rated it did not like it
Ugh, badly written and sensationalist.
Emma Whitelaw
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Darren Russell
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