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The Making of the English Working Class

4.19  ·  Rating details ·  2,743 Ratings  ·  95 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 1966 by Knopt (first published 1963)
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Dec 29, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
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
Feb 20, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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
Aug 22, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: laborhistory
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
David M
Been thinking about this book again. I'm thinking we - that is, American society - could use an encyclopedic work called The Makings of a Permanent American Underclass. It would sort of be like Thompson's classic in reverse; rather than the story of how various bonds of solidarity formed against a background of intense material deprivation, it would start with a situation of general affluence and show how class war then recommenced from above, eroding all social bonds to the point where we pract ...more
Aug 03, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This book has been my Everest.

It was first shown to me by my lovely husband who has very different reading habits and a very different class background to me. To me nanny is ya ma's ma. To him his nanny was someone employed by his mum and dad to watch him when they were at get the drift.

He reads a LOT of non-fiction and loves this kinds of deep, trying tome whereas I am a lover of fiction, but he pointed it out as a really important text for understanding the deep class issues ingr
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
Lauren Albert
Oct 04, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history-british
A truly excellent work of history. I'd had this on my mental "to read" list for a very long time. I'm glad I finally read it. Thompson pulls together a massive amount of research to show how the working class became a group that saw itself as a group. But he shows in great detail the ups and downs of different movements as well as those prominent in them.
Erik Graff
May 13, 2016 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: everyone
Recommended to Erik by: Walter Wallace
Shelves: history
I've been meaning to read this book since having it recommended to me by older high school students during the sixties. Its size and the fear that it would be highly technical put me off. Ironically, I misjudged, just as I had with Das Kapital. Neither Thompson nor Marx were as difficult as I'd expected.

Thompson's book is, as it says, about the English--not the Scottish, not the Welsh, not the Irish, except insofar as they worked in England--lower orders from approximately 1789 (the inspiration
Jan 20, 2011 rated it it was amazing
it took me SIX MONTHS to read this, but I regret nothing
Jan 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
I decided to actually read this monster because Ian Bone recommended it so highly in Bash The Rich. 937 pages later (not the edition pictured), I feel like I climbed a mountain.

Thompson steers a course between older, "sentimental" historians who paint the English workers and artisans of the early 1800s as lovable sweethearts who never planned insurrections or sabotage and "ideological" historians who view the horrors of the industrial revolution and the development of modern capitalism as inevi
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
Jul 22, 2010 rated it liked it
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
Richard Thomas
May 14, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: british-history
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
Apr 16, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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.
Dan Gorman
Feb 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A brilliant combination of good writing, an innovative approach to studying the past, and insightful conclusions about British society during the Industrial Revolution.

For a Marxist, Thompson has a profoundly non-determinist understanding of social class. He believes class emerges from specific human interactions, not preordained social factors. Thompson doesn’t think class is a static historical entity, but he doesn’t write class off as merely an idea, either. There is something there, in his t
Mardin Aminpour
Apr 05, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
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
Timothy Riley
This is a masterpiece of social, political history. It would be too difficult to summarize in the length that it deserves.
As far as readability and attention keeping, there were only two sections that were a bit too detailed and too well researched that dragged this book out. The rest of this book was drenched in research, both secondary and primary sources.

The first section of the book was notable for it was the history of just post French Revolution Britain when a small segment of the workin
Sep 28, 2016 marked it as to-keep-reference
Shelves: inglaterra
...Making of the English Working Class, de E. P. Thompson, el libro que revolucionó la historia social y del trabajo. Thompson específicamente se propone liberar el concepto de “clase” de las categorías osificadas del marxismo estructuralista. Para este proyecto la experiencia era un concepto clave. Su noción de experiencia unía ideas de influencia externa y sentimientos subjetivos, lo estructural y lo psicológico. Esto daba a Thompson una influencia mediadora entre la estructura social y la con ...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
May 03, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
Aug 30, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favourites
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
Jul 23, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Feb 21, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
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.
Emily Ross
Very interesting but incredibly difficult to read, and not just because its over 900 pages long.
Dec 19, 2014 rated it really liked it
Magisterial is a good word for it, I think. Can't call it a must-read, but definitely thought-provoking for anyone thinking about how social movements form.
Dec 28, 2010 rated it it was amazing
essential book for working class studies.
kai feng
Nov 03, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Bernard M.
Nov 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing

Roughly covers the years between the French Revolution and the first Reform Bill, by which time the British working class consciousness had been formed. Well, it is a rather depressing read with page after page of trials, beatings, extremely harsh living and working conditions, child abuse and every so often the scaffold makes its appearance. Overall though, there didn't seem to be too many executions, it was more a daily grind for agricultural and city workers that really oppressed them. It's n
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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
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“The process of industrialization is necessarily painful. It must involve the erosion of traditional patterns of life. But it was carried through with exceptional violence in Britain. It was unrelieved by any sense of national participation in communal effort, such as is found in countries undergoing a national revolution. Its ideology was that of the masters alone. Its messianic prophet was Dr Andrew Ure, who saw the factory system as ‘the great minister of civilization to the terraqueous globe’, diffusing ‘the life-blood of science and religion to myriads… still lying “in the region and shadow of death”.’ But those who served it did not feel this to be so, any more than those ‘myriads’ who were served. The experience of immiseration came upon them in a hundred different forms; for the field labourer, the loss of his common rights and the vestiges of village democracy; for the artisan, the loss of his craftsman’s status; for the weaver, the loss of livelihood and of independence; for the child, the loss of work and play in the home; for many groups of workers whose real earnings improved, the loss of security, leisure and the deterioration of the urban environment.” 1 likes
“I am seeking 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. Their crafts and traditions may have been dying. Their hostility to the new industrialism may have been backward-looking. Their communitarian ideals may have been fantasies. Their insurrectionary conspiracies may have been foolhardy. But they lived through these times of acute social disturbance, and we did not. Their aspirations were valid in terms of their own experience…” 1 likes
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