The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes

Jonathan Rose

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Now in its second edition, this landmark book provides an intellectual history of the British working classes from the preindustrial era to the twentieth century. Drawing on workers’ memoirs, social surveys, library registers, and more, Jonathan Rose discovers which books people read, how they educated themselves, and what they knew. A new preface uncovers the author’s journey into labor history, and its rewarding link to intellectual history.

Jonathan Rose is the founder and past president of the Society for the History of Authorship, Reading and Publishing and coeditor of the journal Book History. He is professor of history at Drew University, where he directs the graduate program in book history.

“Rose seems to have read virtually every published and unpublished popular memoir or diary in existence. He controls for the representativeness of this corpus by the use of oral history, educational records, library data, sociological surveys, and opinion polls in order to obtain about as accurate a portrayal of popular reader response as we are ever likely to get.”—Michael Childs, Canadian Journal of History

“This wonderful book splendidly recaptures the reading experience of the British working classes.”—Choice

“Rose’s book . . . which has the great virtues of clarity, wit and pungent opinion . . . is a brilliant and often moving record of what was achieved—a history, in its way, of discover, of individual lives enhanced by the desire to know more and to know differently. . . . it deserves its place alongside Richard Hoggart and Martin Weiner—alongside the writers who have yielded important new insights into our cultural ancestry and who shed light on ourselves.”—Ian Jack, Daily Telegraph

“This landmark book traces the rise and decline of the British autodidact from the pre-industrial era to the twentieth century. Using innovative research techniques and a vast range of unexpected sources such as workers’ memoirs, social surveys and library registers, Jonathan Rose shows which books people read, how and why they educated themselves, and what they knew. In the process he shines a bold new light on working class politics, ideology, popular culture and the life of the mind.”—Education on the Internet Newsletter

“It is an astonishing book.”—Ian Sansom, Guardian

“This fascinating book will undoubtedly become the standard work on the subject.”—Phillip McCann, History of Education

“By combing 200 years of unexplored memoirs and surveys of the lower classes, Mr. Rose shows that there was a time when the most elite and difficult works of the Western tradition inspired neither snobbery nor shame. . . . The details uncovered by Mr. Rose are startling.”—Edward Rothstein, New York Times

“A splendid book. . . . Rose does a wonderful job explicating how a sample of working-class people experienced [the period of working-class political awakening]. . . . Nuanced, densely documented, and intelligent.”—Jennifer Levine, Papers of the Bibliographical Society of Canada 

“Rose provides an immensely rich and broadly based empirical account of his subject matter; his book will be an essential reference work for decades to come.”—John Callaghan, Science & Society

"Superb. . . . Beautifully-written, sharply conceived. . . . The book represents a seminal advance in intellectual history broadly, and the history of literacy and culture. . . . We will be arguing with Rose’s analysis, and we will use the raw material from this book for years to come."—Wendy Moffat, Sharp News

“[A] magnificent book. . . . a work of truly human imagination. . . . deeply inspiring. . . . should be read with minute attention . . . by anyone with an interest in the future of our civilization.”—Anthony Daniels, Sunday Telegraph

“[R]ich and heartening. . . . This book is vast in scope and absorbing in every detail. As you read it, the air fills with the voices of the long unheard.”—John Carey, Sunday Times

"Using a range of sources, from memoirs to library registers and archives, Rose has created a portrait of working class self-education that is humbling and unforgettable."—Nick Rennison, Sunday Times

“[A] thoroughly fascinating volume. . . . Taking the period from the late eighteenth through the mid-twentieth centuries, Rose has constructed a richly synoptic history of reader responses among the British working classes to the full range of cultural products—primarily books, but also concerts, classroom experiences, radio broadcasts, and films.”—Donald H. Whitfield, The Common Review

“In this sharply original book, Jonathan Rose shows how launderesses, farm labourers, docker and domestic servants fashioned an intellectual life for themselves in circumstances that were far from ideal. Drawing on letters, diaries and unpublished memoirs of unremembered Victorians, Mr. Rose rediscovers a tradition of self-education which recent academic cultural criticism has tended to devalue.”—The Economist

"Fascinating. . . . [Rose] shines a bold new light on working-class politics, ideology, popular culture and the life of the mind."—Sally Cousins, The Sunday Telegraph

[A] passionate work. . . of staggering ambition. [Those] who care about literature, democracy and equality can rejoice.

“Magnificently researched . . . . A compelling testimony to the power of the written word to transform individuals’ lives.”—Kate Flint, Victorian Studies

"It is my earnest wish that everyone would find some book out of which they would derive as much pleasure as I have done in reading The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes."—Timothy Larsen, Books & Culture

“This exciting tour de force deserves a prize.”—Denis Paz, American Historical Review

Co-winner the Longman-History Today 'Book of the Year' Prize for 2001

Winner of the 2002 Society for the History of Authorship, Reading and Publishing, Book History Prize

Winner of the American Philosophical Society’s Jacques Barzun Prize in Cultural History for 2001

Winner of the 2002 Humanities Book Award sponsored by the New Jersey Council for the Humanities

Longlisted for the 2001 Samuel Johnson Prize

Shortlisted for the 2001 Duff Cooper Prize

Winner of the 2002 British Council Prize awarded by the North American Conference on British Studies

Winner of the Bela Kornitzer Award awarded by Drew University

Named one of the finest books of 2001 by The Economist
ISBN: 9780300153651
Publication Date: July 6, 2010
544 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
The Literary Churchill

Author, Reader, Actor

Jonathan Rose

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