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Harry's Last Stand: How the World My Generation Built is Falling Down, and What We Can Do to Save It

4.23  ·  Rating details ·  1,111 ratings  ·  145 reviews
‘As one of the last remaining survivors of the Great Depression and the Second World War, I will not go gently into that good night. I want to tell you what the world looks like through my eyes, so that you can help change it…’

In November 2013, 91-year-old Yorkshireman, RAF veteran and ex-carpet salesman Harry Leslie Smith’s Guardian article – ‘This year, I will wear a pop
Hardcover, 224 pages
Published June 5th 2014 by Icon Books
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Average rating 4.23  · 
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 ·  1,111 ratings  ·  145 reviews

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Charlotte Jones
Aug 08, 2014 rated it it was amazing
From the very beginning of this book the author’s poetic yet brutal writing style hits you over the head with a passion and sincerity that is to be expected of a true Yorkshire-man like Harry.

As a (nearly) 23 year-old student, getting by on student loans and a part-time job, it is difficult to comprehend the expanse of time that Harry has lived and remembers. As he says ‘I am not an historian, but at 91 I am history’ and reading this book you really get that feeling. To be honest, unless I am st
K.J. Charles
A tremendous polemic by this sorely missed, deeply decent man, a WW2 veteran brought up in horrifying, corrosive poverty. It underscores many important things--the short and fragile lives of the NHS and welfare state that created the Britain I grew up in, the terror of living in a country that doesn't support you if you struggle or care if you die, the callousness of the 1% and the apathy with which we've let the post-war attempt to equalise things slip through our fingers, under the leadership ...more
Harry's Last Stand. This is an autobiography and political tract from 91 year old Harry Leslie Smith. Harry Smith made the news in 2013 when he declared that he would no longer wear a remembrance day poppy, as he was disgusted with seeing it debased on the lapels of our politicians. In Harry's Last Stand he uses his own experiences of life during the Great Depression to draw parallels between the depravation he experienced and the return to these pre welfare state values that he sees now under a ...more
John Farebrother
Sep 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I would give this book six stars if I could. It should be required reading for all politicians, and all public (ie private) school children. The author is in his nineties, and has lived through the best and the worst of the UK in the last century and this. Looking back on his life, he shares with us the benefit of his experiences. With working class, northern wisdom, he points out to us what should be common knowledge to everyone, in language that makes it blindingly obvious: the generation that ...more

I read this a while ago, in my Silent Period of 2018. It's difficult to say I "enjoyed" it, for how can one enjoy the re-telling of a difficult, hardscrabble life, lived hand-to-mouth? But I enjoyed connecting with the man who lived with dignity, and honour, and good old-fashioned values and morality -- the values of goodness and taking care of one's neighbour -- and being responsible for one's neighbour, in that "good old fashioned way".

I realize this sounds like my mom-and-pop review of
Allie Riley
Dec 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Just wow. A rallying cry to all for social justice, civic involvement and equity. Beautifully written and tear-inducingly poignant in many places. I highlighted so much, I may as well have highlighted it all. A wonderful read. I am only sorry that I did not read it sooner so that I could tell Harry himself how much I appreciated it. Highly recommended. Should be required reading for all.
C.S. Woolley
May 27, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book, absolutely fantastic and really quite a shock to the system!

Everyone should read this book and really think about the lessons that were learned in the past and how we, as a society, are forgetting what it was like before.
I must admit that when I first saw this book and it's title, I assumed this would be the usual rant us younger folk expect from the elderly - you know about how easy we have it and how lazy we are and yada yada yada. So I did not bother to look any further until I saw this interview with him that justkissmyfrog posted on her youtube channel.

He was nothing like I imagined him to be. He was funny, compassionate and still so in touch. Yeah, we do not really expect that from the elderly. And as wit
Aug 20, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Not words nor emojis can describe this book or what it means to me. One of my favourite books of all time.
Jul 29, 2017 rated it liked it
A fine rant, not unmeasured, by Harry Leslie Smith who may be in his 90s but is far from dead. His miserable experiences of poverty as a child inform his beliefs now, and perhaps the most useful contribution of all is his depiction of the corrosive nature of that poverty on human relationships. His family was not 'poor but happy' and the story of what happened to his parents' relationship in the teeth of the Great Depression is harrowing.

I felt he sidelined the matter of his many adult years spe
Jennifer (JC-S)
Aug 06, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: librarybooks
‘Though I am not an historian, I am history.’

Harry Smith, born in 1923 and celebrating his 92nd birthday this month (February 2015), has quite a lot to say about the UK and the modern world. There’s an urgency about Harry’s views, and reading about his life experiences it’s hard not to agree with much of what he has to say.

Harry Smith lived through the awful, grinding poverty of the Great Depression. His sister Marion died in 1926 as a consequence of tuberculosis because his family could not aff
Harold Walters
Aug 12, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: first-reads
A GoodReads Giveaway

At the age of 91, Harry Leslie Smith states, “I am not an historian, but I am history, and I fear its repetition.”

A survivor of the Great Depression, a veteran of World War II, Harry is convinced that the world his generation fought to create is within a hair’s breadth of being destroyed by corporate greed and, to some degree, consumer apathy.

Harry’s book opens with a comment on peace at the end of WWII: “…peace smelled…of lilac, petrol and rotting flesh of the dead German ci
Jul 10, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2014
'Harry's Last Stand' is a book that I feel is very important in the society we find ourselves living in today. It's a book that everyone should read because I believe that it is a book everyone can learn from.

I am not someone who is thoroughly involved in, or who thoroughly understands, politics (although I'm trying to be). And although this book could be pitched as a political testament, Harry writes in such an honest, accessible and understanding way, that I never felt as if this book could o
Gavin Smith
Harry's Last Stand... is part opinion column, part social history, part memoir and part angry rant. It's hard to disagree with anything he says here. Britain has undoubtedly abandoned the social progress made following the Second World War in favour of austerity politics and an agenda of deliberate social division. I feel just as angry as the author does. Unfortunately, given the recent election victory for the Conservative party, it seems we are both simply pissing in the wind, particularly in ...more
Jun 04, 2014 rated it really liked it
We have forgotten!
Harry and his generation did not endure the hardships of war for us to light a candle, watch ceremonies on TV and repeat clichés in their name. They fought for freedom, democracy and a fairer society for all.
Having survived the depression of the 30's, Harry is able to draw meaningful comparison between today's austerity with its vilification of the poor and the conditions of his childhood as a warning to us on the direction our society is heading.
If we truly want to never forge
Chris Sampson
Jun 17, 2014 rated it really liked it
An emotive defence of the society denied to us by neoliberalism. Tales from Harry’s 91 years are woven into a fact-of-the-matter narrative of today’s status quo. From upsetting accounts of a hungry childhood in the Great Depression to triumphs of love against the odds. Parallels are drawn between our brutal past and today’s social malaise, with striking effect. Harry’s angry and disturbed, but most of all he’s worried. Is society so inflicted by the wilful myopia and amnesia of government that B ...more
Jun 29, 2014 rated it really liked it
Ah, the wisdom of those who have lived history. I am only docking a star because 1) it was largely in reference to the problems and politics of the UK, while I am an American. Although, many of the struggles and problems across the pond are very similar if not the same as our own. 2) I don't agree 100% on the extent to which he would like to take the welfare state. In my line of work I see A LOT of abuse of the systems in place to help people like Smith's family growing up. That is not to say we ...more
Jun 05, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-in-2014
This book was ok. I feel a bit harsh only giving it 3 stars but at the end I was left a bit disappointed.

The book doesn't flow too well, it keeps bouncing back and forth in time and repeating itself, or at least that is what it felt like.

Also the book just feels like a rant, this is very little input in how we could get out of the situation that world finds itself in.

Hopefully enough people will read this, wake up and start to fight back, but I don't think that is gonna happen.
Patrick Carroll
Aug 14, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An excellent polemic on the destruction of the mechanisms that made our society more equal after the depression and WW II. There is a very coherent argument for the "society" that in Margaret Thatcher's mind didn't exist. It is reasonable to assume that there is a point when the majority won't tolerate a minority having control of most of the world's wealth, there have already been glimmers and should it come to a fight then we will all suffer.
Aug 04, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Schoolchildren should read this book. Social change didn't just happen. Good people with vision fought for it. Harry's final chapter in particular lays out positive ways in which people can take power back into their communities and to serve their communities. Thanks Harry for an excellent reminder of what we stand to lose.
Jun 24, 2014 rated it really liked it
Fascinating, a view of present day politics and their effect on ordinary people by a man who has lived through war and privation. His family struggled through the Great Depression and he compares that time with today's austerity measures.
Memoir, opinions, problems, solutions, history all weaved together in a truly honest way. A true Yorkshireman who tells it like it is. Everyone should pay attention and stand with Harry.
Jun 17, 2014 rated it really liked it
Absolutely beautiful. Awe-inspiring, thought-provoking, and above all, honest. Please read it. Full review here: ...more
Jun 24, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
Beautiful, inspiring and spot on in many areas. I want to hold this book above my head and implore people to read it. Especially those in charge of our country.
Lucy Tregidon
Aug 10, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
I loved this book. If you want to see my full review you can find it here:
Louise Marriott
Aug 21, 2014 rated it liked it
Probably no one left who can write from experience with such authority - not comfortable reading but well written
Dec 05, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Beautifully written, with an important message.
Nov 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: reviewed
I am a WW II history fanatic, especially when it comes to the European theater, so when friends suggest a book written about those years or by someone who participated, I find the book. I also lean Socialists and/or Green in my politics and continue to be outraged and embarrassed at the current cruel capitalism America has spread around the world. This is Mr. Harry Smith, a British veteran of WW II, writing from the heart about both.

Harry Smith has experienced firsthand some of the most awful th
Sep 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
What can you say about someone's life? This isn't an academic piece to learn from, however this is something we should all read to learn from anyway.
It's not linear, it's as if he's pieces it together as he went along on a chat with someone. There are instances were he's written about one event that has happened, and said how that event reminded him of another event before, or even more chronicalogically mind-bending talks about an event that happened, then goes on to talk about an event that h
Sep 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
I remember Smith's article about why he refused to wear a poppy on Remembrance Day. I also enjoyed his occasional articles in The Guardian. This is a collection of those essays. He writes passionately and knowledgeably about life before the welfare state and the NHS - the essay about his sister's death should be read by everyone. His anger as the advances he and his generation fought are eroded, or at risk of being eroded, for is palpable.

Smith died a short while back. RIP and thank you for art
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Harry Leslie Smith was a British survivor of the Great Depression, a Second World War RAF veteran and, in his 90s, an activist for the poor, for refugees and for the preservation of social democracy. He wrote for numerous publications including The New Statesman, The Daily Mirror, The Tyee, International Business Times as well as the Guardian where his articles have been shared hundreds of thousan ...more

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You know the saying: There's no time like the present...unless you're looking for a distraction from the current moment. In that case, we can't...
51 likes · 22 comments
“In November, when our nation remembers her fallen soldiers and honours the lost youth of my generation, the Prime Minister, government leaders and the hollow men of business affix paper poppies to their lapels and afford the dead of war two minutes' silence. Afterwards, they speak golden platitudes about the struggle and the heroism of that time. Yet the words they speak are meaningless because they have surrendered the values my generation built after the horrors of the Second World War.” 8 likes
“There are so few people left alive from back then, you may as well be talking to them about the Black Death. Nobody recalls the shite in the 30s and that were fucking horrible. For Christ's sake, nobody wants to remember the shite in the 80s. It's all forgotten and swept under the rug by the newspapers and the BBC. They get nostalgic about the music, but they never want to mention the misery. It's all shite. As for the bloody Second World War, the politicians only talk about it when they need an excuse to go pissing about in one of those fucking Muslim countries.” 4 likes
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