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This Boy

4.19  ·  Rating details ·  2,957 ratings  ·  313 reviews
'The best memoir by a politician you will ever read' The Times

School on the Kings Road, Chelsea in the Swinging 60s, the rock-and-roll years, the race riots; this boy has seen it all.

Alan Johnson's childhood was not so much difficult as unusual - particularly for a man who was destined to become Home Secretary.

Not in respect of the poverty, which was shared with many of
ebook, 304 pages
Published May 9th 2013 by Transworld Digital
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Average rating 4.19  · 
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 ·  2,957 ratings  ·  313 reviews

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Jun 10, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was an interesting book about the childhood of Alan Johnson. He has held senior positions in the Labour governments of Blair and Brown - that of Home secretary, Health Secretary and Education Secretary. He was also Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer.

He has travelled a very long road indeed to reach the the airy heights of political success. He started out life in the slums of Ladbroke Grove and North Kensington in London, in the 1950s and 60s. He and his family lived in appalling conditions
John Anthony
Oct 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is the childhood memoir of the Labour MP and former government minister and shadow minister. A childhood in West London in the 1950s and 60s, captured by a child of the time. It is worth recalling that the grinding poverty he, his mother and sister experienced was so recent. Both women as described here are remarkable. The book is rightly dedicated to Johnson's sister Linda who, he says, “kept me safe” (3 years his senior). An amazing woman and supposedly a member of the weaker sex?

Warmly r
Feb 28, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

It is rare that I choose a book written by a politician, but I’m very glad that this one caught my eye. I had seen Alan Johnson being interviewed about this memoir of his early years in London and wondered how he eventually became a cabinet minister in the Labour Governments of both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. He described his home in Southam Street in North Kensington; it is hard to believe that slums like this still existed in the mid 20th century. However, what really piqued my curiosity was
This autobiography of Alan Johnson takes the reader through the first years of his life, detailing his experiences in London in the 1950s and 1960s, making for a very good looking-glass into that day's society. It's written in a loose manner and allows for an easy read, even if the topics (poverty, exclusion, social services failure, societal development) are not at all easy to understand. It's not a wow-book, doesn't have a wow-factor, but it is a nonetheless pleasing read, from which you can t ...more
Sep 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
A politician’s memoir for people who don’t like politician’s memoirs.

Some will call Johnson’s childhood ‘Dickensian’ but the comparison misleads. Misty eyes are outlawed. There are no plays for sympathy, no tragedy milked dry for political street-cred. The facts, sharply observed and crisply reported are what Johnson delivers, elevating the book far above the level of a misery memoir.

To say Johnson’s childhood was grim would be like saying Genghis Khan was a bit of a scamp. The Johnsons lived i
May 29, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Loved this, warmly written and a reminder of how things were for so many before a proper welfare state. Let's not go back there. ...more
Jun 11, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I thoroughly enjoyed this award winning childhood memoir by former Labour Home Secretary Alan Johnson, detailing his life in the post war slums of Notting Hill in the 1950s and 60s, when his experiences not only reflected those facing the working class at the time, but also were exacerbated by an absent father and a frequently ill mother.

It's the female figures, mother Lilly and sister Linda who are the heroes of this memoir, Lilly keeping the family afloat while her philandering husband wanders
Oct 08, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoir
I would normally give an autobiography by a politician, and a Labour one at that, a very wide swerve. But Johnson always seemed a decent person and was once the Minister for the Department I worked for.
Memoirs of poor childhoods in London are ten a penny. I wanted to see what the fuss was all about with this particular one.
I think part of it is that he is a well known figure who has 'made good' so when we read of his dreadful early years we somehow know he will be able to rise above this.
He also
This memoir by a contemporary British politician's childhood in grinding poverty is amazing. It's hard to get hold of in this country, though. I learned about it from a GoodReads follower who lives in the UK. The author is Alan Johnson, b. 1950,

In addition to Johnson's unflinching characterization of abject poverty and the heroic struggles of his mother and sister, it is his self-deprecation that is most striking. He has a light touch, hardly blaming whe
Wendy Greenberg
Dec 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
One of the most engaging memoirs I have read for some time. Not only is the content fascinating but Johnson's writing style is storytelling of the best sort encouraging you to page turn so he can keep telling you more. There is a complete lack of chip on the shoulder about the hardship he grew up amongst. It was what he knew and the lack of imposing opinions or hindsight make it the more riveting. Beautiful drawing of the two strong women mother, Lily, who dies when Johnson is 13 and his sister, ...more
Mar 31, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Although a few years my senior so much of this story of his childhood set off echoes and reminiscences in my head as I read it. A real privilege to be allowed to share his story and meet those two amazing women who made his life what it became.
first part of alan johnson autobiography this part looking at growing up in the notting hill area of london in the slums and the early death of his mother lily and the absent father steve and how linda and his sister survived until both got married to mike and judy.
N.E. David
Apr 03, 2014 rated it really liked it
2 April 2014
THIS BOY by Alan Johnson

I don’t read biographies these days. When I was in my teens and early twenties and seeking inspiration as to my future, I read them a lot. I seem to recall I focused on politicians – Disraeli, Baldwin, MacMillan and anything to do with Churchill. I even went as far back as the 17th century and a copy of Antonia Fraser’s ‘Cromwell’ still adorns my bookcase. Nowadays my taste is for literary fiction, primarily as a result of my need to keep abreast of trends in
Orinoco Womble (tidy bag and all)
I guess I'm not used to memoirs that run into several volumes. I kept waiting for the transition to come, how this rather lazy grammar-school student who left school at fifteen made it into politics without the old-boy school-tie network solidly behind him. Silly me. This is just Vol 1.

The main character in this book seems not to be the author, but his mother whom he adored and who had a very hard life due to being abandoned by the father of her two children, an abandonment that began long befor
Maggie Craig
Feb 04, 2015 rated it really liked it
Alan Johnson is a British trade unionist and Labour politician. In his time he has held different portfolios as a cabinet minister, including serving as Home Secretary.

Having read his memoir of his life as a young man, I went back to read this story of his childhood. He grew up in Notting Hill/North Kensington in London in the 1950s and 60s. The district was full of slum housing back then and he, his big sister Linda and their mother Lily lived in a couple of damp and crumbling flats in buildin
Mary Hamer
Jul 28, 2014 rated it really liked it
Alan Johnson rather turned me off as a politician but now I’ve met him in the pages of This Boy I have nothing for him but respect. The story of a childhood subject to all the stresses and humiliation of poverty and passed in housing condemned as unfit for habitation is told without the slightest self-pity. Better still, the memoir is alive with love for Lily, the mother who struggled so courageously to bring him and his sister up. Abandoned by a useless husband, she took every cleaning job she ...more
Helen Chapman
Whilst I found this readable, was quite surprised by the poverty described and could empathise with the hungry Alan, I felt rather non plussed by this book. On reading other reviews,I agree that this story is free from self pity and regret - admirably so given the circumstances described. But perhaps this lack of emotion and of comment is the reason I felt little connection with the characters and did not care enough about their fate.
I always refrain from finding out about a book before I read i
Feb 25, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This book is so refreshing. A political memoir written not by an over-privileged, over-moneyed posh boy but by someone who has had to struggle in life who has known poverty and had 'proper' jobs and been to normal schools.

'This Boy' is a homage to his mother, Lily and his sister, Linda and also to a disappeared London of community, rag and bone men and awful poverty.

A 'simple' and beautiful book.
Jul 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: english, biography
Excellent. Nothing to add to the other reviews that say the same. It would have been 5* if it were not for the too elaborate description of all things football, but that's just me. Makes you angry with those that destroyed social democracy, especially in the UK. ...more
May 18, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biographies-read
Alan Johnson was born just two years after me and also grew up in a working-class area, though he knew greater hardship than I did, especially after his father left. This is a moving and heart-warming testament to his mother who died tragically young, and his elder sister who steered them through one crisis after another. His recollections of his teenage years brought back many memories, and the whole memoir is told with an objectivity and humour that is admirable. Encountering both cruelty and ...more
Dec 31, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A very humbling book, engagingly written about a world that most of us have never lived in - of poverty and oppression. I heard excerpts of this on radio etc when it was first written and it sounded interesting but the book is more so.

I met Johnson while he was Secretary of State for Health. Thereafter I had a deep respect for him - he presented as ordinary but was very impressive. I wonder whether had he become more he might have changed history? Having read this book I am all the more full of
Sep 11, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fact
I really loved this book not because it’s written by a politician - despite this. I enjoyed this because it was extremely personable, written with real feeling and honesty and amazing think that the living conditions and stories of Alan’s life really happened in the UK in the twentieth century. Amazing. Children bringing up children when adults become sick or let them down. No loo. Cold. Children not loved. Sad. Touching. Thought provoking.
Christine Parkinson
Oct 29, 2020 rated it really liked it
This book was recommended to me and I put off reading it due to thinking it would be all about politics. It is not at all about politics. It is the story of Alan Johnson’s life as he was growing up. It is an amazing story which I thoroughly enjoyed and would like to carry on to read what happened next.
Julie Maloney
Feb 16, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It amazes me that people can remember so much about their childhood. But I’m glad Alan Johnson did as it brings to life a squalid and violent London in the 50’s and 60’s. The ending however felt too rushed.
Caroline Southgate
Apr 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
reading the third in series for book club so wanted to get an idea of Alan Johnson's life. lived in poverty, reminded me of some of areas of mid wives on BBC. living accommodation really poor but not his mums fault. enjoyed this so should enjoy the third one ...more
David Highton
A well written and moving account of a childhood in poverty in North London in the 1950s and 1960s by a man who went on the become a Cabinet Minister in the Blair government
Feb 13, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Alan Johnson rose to the political heights of Home Secretary but his early life gave no indication of his future success. In this straight-forward and unadorned memoir he recounts his childhood and youth in a poor working-class neighbourhood in London. His feckless father abandoned the family early on, and his mother Lily was left to bring up Alan and his sister Linda as best she could. Life was a daily struggle, not helped by Lily’s poor health. There’s nothing romantic about poverty, but Lily ...more
Julie Ryan
May 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Though a memoir of childhood poverty and squalor, Johnson writes this book in a charming, witty and modest way. The book focusses on two women, his mother and sister, and of how they battled against the hardship and injustices of working class life.

The book was of particular interest to me as Johnson grew up in the same street as my father had some twenty years before him. I had in fact recently published a book telling of my father's experiences of growing up in Southam Street ('In and out of
Jan 21, 2015 rated it liked it
The former Home Secretary's memoir feels honest and down to earth with an acceptance of what was his lot as a boy. It is inspiring to think that a man who had such a tough start in life could end up running one of the highest ministries in the land. Quite a journey. And yet, the fact that the childhood is in the main remembered without emotion might indicate how steely Johnson is. A sense of respect for mother and sister is clear, a sense of admiration. There's a matter of fact rejection of his ...more
Oct 08, 2014 rated it really liked it
I may as well add to the general acclaim with which this book has been greeted. Alan Johnson is my generation, and lived within a few miles of me in London. It could have been another planet. We weren't at all well off, but compared with the wretched conditions under which he was raised, we were kings. His mother struggled with ill-heath, a feckless husband and truly dreadful housing, yet did a good job of raising Alan and his sister Linda, who was forced into an adult role long before her time. ...more
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Alan Arthur Johnson (born 17 May 1950) is a British politician who served as Secretary of State for the Home Department from 2009 to 2010 and Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer from 2010 to 2011. A member of the Labour Party, Johnson served as the Member of Parliament (MP) for Hull West and Hessle from 1997 to 2017.

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