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Private Island: How the UK Was Sold
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Private Island: How the UK Was Sold

3.93  ·  Rating details ·  369 ratings  ·  51 reviews
In a little over a generation the bones and sinews of the British economy - rail, energy, water, postal services, municipal housing - have been sold to remote, unaccountable private owners. In a series of brilliant portraits James Meek shows how Britain's common wealth became private, and the impact it has had on us all. In a series of panoramic accounts, Meek explores the ...more
Paperback, 240 pages
Published October 7th 2014 by Verso (first published January 1st 2014)
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Domhnall Who indeed, when Verso have just sold it to me in hardback at a 40% reduction, with the e-book thrown in and readable on kindle or other devices (I ha…moreWho indeed, when Verso have just sold it to me in hardback at a 40% reduction, with the e-book thrown in and readable on kindle or other devices (I have it on my Android tablet). (less)

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I had to stop reading this after a while as it is too harrowing. Watching what's been happening to the UK since the early eighties or thereabouts has been very distressing. Since the UK is largely owned by foreign money now, I guess it shouldn't really be surprising that the poor of the UK are suffering in a way that's like watching their own colonial possessions in the past.

No wonder Professor Alston said that the Republicans would pee in their pants to be able to do to their poor what the Tori
Jul 08, 2018 rated it it was ok
There is a lot about this book to be applauded. The research is excellent, the prose lively, and parts manage to be genuinely funny - not something you necessarily expect in a book like this. If in some ways the book suffers from its indebtedness to Meek's articles (there's a fair degree of repetition, a few passages which make less sense outside the LRB, etc), it does retain from them a certain energy and the sense of a journalist on their rounds.

Although likely to be useful for reference, I wo
Jonathan Norton
Jan 25, 2016 rated it liked it
Britain is fucked. I think that's the Executive Summary on this report from the Coalition years. It's probably got worse since it was published, but my top recommendation is that we hide our copies of this behind the microwave, along with all those bills we're ignoring, go back to bed and hide under the sheets. Apologies if I'm revealing my privileged status as someone who still has a bed and access to a kitchen. ...more
Apr 19, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: politics
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book which highlights the effect of privatisation in Britain over the last 30 years or so. One of the things I found particularly interesting was just how relevant each chapter was today with what is happening politically and socially in the UK right now.

Each chapter focuses on a particular element of privatisation - the book doesn't cover every industry and doesn't go into depth of the history for every privatised industry. What it does is present case studies
Nov 08, 2017 rated it really liked it
I could be here all day extolling the virtues of this excellent account of the corporatisation of public services (of course, as Meek proves, in reality, the idea of "public" and "private" spheres are of course false dichotomies), only, I know how annoying long reviews on goodreads can be so will keep it short and succinct.

First of all: EVERY single British citizen should read this (in fact, I'd go as far as to say that it should be mandatory reading on all sixth form politics syllabuses).

Maru Kun
Jun 23, 2015 rated it really liked it
Interesting article on privatization in the light of the IMF report on public balance sheets: Britain fell for a neoliberal con trick – even the IMF says so ...more
Aurélien Thomas
Ha! The typical example of a very good book, sabotaged by the political bias of its author. It's a pity, because James Meek does make strong points against the mishandling of the privatisations he is dealing with here, while, although a leftist, not calling for renationalisation as a solution fit-for-all. It's a welcome outlook.

The beginning is a point in itself, seeing the author remembering a journey of his across the collapsing side of what was then the Iron Curtain. It's a nice take to intr
Lee Humphries
Oct 15, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Another book to keep me angry. Good read documenting the sell off of UK public services. mostly it seems to other parts of the world. Especially frustrating is New Labour's involvement in the selling off the NHS & state education which is why the party is hemorrhaging voters to the likes of those with socialist leanings like the Greens. ...more
Jun 07, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: economics
Well here we are, with over twenty years' experience of privatisation, and it seems a reasonable thing to enquire if the outcomes resemble what was promised. In many respects, they do indeed, but only in so far as dire warnings have been vindicated. Take the railway network for example. A House of Common select committee examined the proposed privatisation and predicted it would be irresponsibly risky, and in particular that it depended irrationally on a technology that promised to revolutionise ...more
Stephen Goldenberg
May 23, 2015 rated it really liked it
A depressing read but a book which everyone who cares about public services like health and education should read. We've had to suffer 40 years of the neo-liberal mantra of private enterprise good, state provided public services bad that it's about time we woke up to the truth of what has been happening. Meek does this by not blinding us with complex facts and statistics but allowing ordinary people, both consumers and managers of the services, to tell their stories. The ludicrousness of the sit ...more
Darran Mclaughlin
Mar 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
An excellent account of the privatization of the British state under Thatcher and subsequent governments. No one could read this scrupulously researched book and come away with any other conclusion than that it has been a national catastrophe which has lead to an enormous transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich. Essential reading
Well that was as bleak as it was depressing. great book. five stars.
Thomas Ray
Oct 17, 2018 marked it as to-read
Coming to the U.S. Trump will release his Postal Service privatization plan after the 2018 elections. If he released it before, we might vote some Republicans out. ...more
Sep 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
Depressing but essential reading, especially for anyone still in doubt as to whether privatisation is a good thing or not.
Vishal Misra
Aug 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Why do so many people have issues with privatisation? What is the legacy of Thatcher, and to what extent did New Labour further the Thatcherite credo? These are, effectively, the questions that Meek's book sets out to answer.

Taking a set of utilities (mail, rail, water, energy, health and housing) the book ends up in Thanet, and looking at the rise of UKIP. What becomes apparent, to the uninitiated, is that privatisation has done a lot of damage, and has never delivered on the promises that Tha
Jan 09, 2016 rated it liked it
LRB journalist James Meek looks at what the great experiment in privatisation has meant for the industries it covered. The Royal Mail, railways, water, electricity, the health service and homes are the areas he directs his analysis at, testing the idea that private ownership means greater inefficiency, more innovation and better services.

He commands massive amounts of detail in each of these chapters and gives the impression of huge expertise. There is very little jumping to easy conclusions abo
Ármin Scipiades
Feb 02, 2017 rated it liked it
Recommended to Ármin by: I don't remember!
Kinda fascinating, biased, kinda dull, kinda shallow. Exhibits the weirdness of British journalistic language (sometimes I had trouble parsing the sentences, go figure). Characteristically punny titles (puns stop there, thank god, and they're actually quite good puns). Also suffers from all the problems book-length journalistic works usually do.

But it's always nice to read about very real problems distant to you in time and space.

Or are they distant? We had the same privatization of public works
Steve Gillway
A sad tale that has been recounted in other books, newspapers and magazines. Here in the UK a vast amount of effort has been expended in the name of privatisation. The end result is to make the rich richer and the poor poorer. Meek is right to see water, energy, health and transport more like taxes. I remember years ago I played rugby in a team with a serving Tory MP, although I didn't know it at the time. I just took the piss out of this guy who thought I could buy my electricity from any suppl ...more
Jan 01, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It is almost a tradition now for the new year in Britain to start with a trickle of bad news. Perhaps it suits something gloomy in our constitution to have the worst of our island's weather accompanied by a slow drip of headlines that remind us all that everything is steadily getting worse. The trains are running late and tickets only ever get more expensive. Schools are a bad dream of privilege. We fiddle about with our internet subscriptions and energy suppliers in a big to moderate the insidi ...more
Steven Pilling
Nov 01, 2016 rated it really liked it
This is interesting and powerful.

Meek seems to grind no party political axe but rather takes aim at the policy of uk governments towards their national treasures.

The arguments are clear and concise and the evidence is damning .

Very strong reportage
May 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
I have long believed that "privatisation" was never about efficiency or increasing consumer choice but about transfering public assets and public money into the hands of unaccountable unscrupulous individuals and organisations for their personal benefit. The degree to which there was intent on the part of the ideologists for this is debatable, that it is essentially what has happened is not as Meek illustrates in this very readable account of the asset stripping of Britain. From nations that own ...more
May 30, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: anglais
Somewhat disappointing, it's very well written and the stories are engrossing but it lacks something towards the economics. It's evident from what we read that the management of these privatised companies is either incompetent or negligent towards the operation of the companies, less so in favour of profits; but I think what could have been explored is the class interests that motivated the privatisations. I think this where the fact that the book is adapted from separate articles hits its limit ...more
Jan 16, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2020
This book makes a good case against privatisation but it's not faultless. Its weaknesses came in the first 2 chapters about postal services and rail network maintenence.
In explaining why the Royal Mail was in decline due to electronic mail, the author inadvertently makes a good case in favour of privatisation.
In regards to Network Rail, the author makes a better argument against privatisation but doesn't argue in favour of nationalisation. It was as though he favoured a third option without exp
Jul 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
The UK subtitle of this book is "Why Britain now belongs to someone else." I like that a lot better thn "How the UK sold" because one of the strengths of this polemic against privatization is the way it unpicks the rhetoric behind privatization vs. the reality. After the introduction (which intersperses a discussion of the politics of privatization with a very brief—too brief—study of privatization after the collapse of the Soviet Union), Meek turns to 5 case studies: the privatization of the po ...more
Beth Richards-Doughty
Apr 03, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2020

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. It is an excellent account of the privatisation and (trans)corporatisation of British public services. All in all a clever yet depressing read considering the reality of what is being narrated.

The book in itself is pretty conservative - with a Meek himself sympathising with the use of market forces in society. However, Meek is an excellent writer and I enjoyed his narration and I’d recommend this highly to anyone who wants to understand the political clim
Jan 16, 2021 rated it it was amazing
This is a great book. James Meek investigates the increasing degree to which the United Kingdom has adopted privatization as its policy of choice. Obviously there's the history of Thatcher and onward, but what I am impressed with in Meek is the focus on the outcomes of privatization: massive costs, complete lack of implementation, and human confusion, even suffering. It's not an academic study and it is far from complete, but for those interested in the subject and interested to see how deep the ...more
Elena Sanchez Heras

Excellent format of the book. Instead of criticising privatisation on the whole, it provides 7 examples of privatised common goods and gives evidence of the outcome. I thoroughly recommend the chapter on Railtrack. Amazing! If anybody told you this story you would think that they were making it up! The evidence is there, for us to see, if we want to. Otherwise carry on thinking that experts are overrated and markets know best.
Aug 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: political
Brilliantly worked book. Cannot imagine the amount of research that went into this. So informative, and somewhat mind blowing! Only criticism is the last paragraph “In Farageland” which didn’t really fit into the narrative of the book (interesting though it was). This is the 2014 version with my personal highlight being the “Afterword” written Jan2015 which I have read twice now, and will undoubtedly read again. This book is a keeper, to remain on my shelf for a long, long time.
Aug 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: finished-in-2018
Depressing but so well-written and full of so many eye-openers that I couldn't put it down. It helped me get my head around electricity and the current changes in the NHS, and want to know more about all the storied. ...more
Apr 25, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Incredible. The only reason I docked a star was because paragraphs sometimes have details you can get lost reading quite easily. Still incredible, and also infuriating.
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