The most recommended books about the working class

Who picked these books? Meet our 118 experts.

118 authors created a book list connected to the working class, and here are their favorite working class books.
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Book cover of The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper

Sarah Horowitz Author Of The Red Widow: The Scandal that Shook Paris and the Woman Behind it All

From my list on scandalous women you’ve never heard of.

Who am I?

I’ve always loved reading about women who lived in earlier eras, whether that was through nonfiction or historical fiction. Books gave me access to worlds beyond my own and I loved thinking about what I would do in a particular situation, whether I would have made the same choices as the women I was reading about. I suppose it’s no surprise that I have a Ph.D. in history and teach European history. I love sharing my passion for the past and I hope you love the books I recommended as much as I do!

Sarah's book list on scandalous women you’ve never heard of

Sarah Horowitz Why did Sarah love this book?

Ok, so I’m cheating a little bit here. A lot of people have heard of the women Rubenhold writes about because they’re famous for being Jack the Ripper’s victims.

And for many of the women, what they did was not particularly scandalous, since Rubenhold goes a long way to show that not all of them were streetwalkers. But this book is such a beautiful and heartbreaking read. It’s a meticulous and gripping reconstruction of the lives of women we thought we knew but don’t. She brings nineteenth-century London alive in a way that few authors have – when I read the book, I felt like I was there.

By Hallie Rubenhold,

Why should I read it?

11 authors picked The Five as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

THE #1 SUNDAY TIMES BESTSELLER
WINNER OF THE BAILLIE GIFFORD PRIZE FOR NONFICTION 2019
'An angry and important work of historical detection, calling time on the misogyny that has fed the Ripper myth. Powerful and shaming' GUARDIAN

Polly, Annie, Elizabeth, Catherine and Mary-Jane are famous for the same thing, though they never met. They came from Fleet Street, Knightsbridge, Wolverhampton, Sweden and Wales. They wrote ballads, ran coffee houses, lived on country estates, they breathed ink-dust from printing presses and escaped people-traffickers.

What they had in common was the year of their murders: 1888.

Their murderer was never identified, but…


Book cover of Deschooling

Laura Tisdall Author Of A Progressive Education?: How Childhood Changed in Mid-Twentieth-Century English and Welsh Schools

From my list on making you question why schools exist.

Who am I?

I attended school for fourteen years, experiencing a wide range of different school types, from an experimental child-centred school in Washington DC to a Steiner school in rural Wiltshire to an all-girls’ comprehensive school in Bath. I hated school and my teachers and peers frequently hated me. In revenge, I became a historian of childhood and education in modern Britain so I could try and work out why school was so bad, and why children and teenagers are not listened to in British society. I did my PhD in History at the University of Cambridge and am now an Academic Track Fellow in History at Newcastle University. 

Laura's book list on making you question why schools exist

Laura Tisdall Why did Laura love this book?

In the 1960s, radical educational thinkers in the Global North started to question why schools needed to exist at all.

Writers like John Holt, Ivan Illich, and Paul Goodman argued that we should separate ‘education’ from ‘schooling’. Although their views were different, they agreed on a basic set of ideas: children don’t learn much in school; schools are oppressive places, especially for working-class students; and often, they just exist to socialise children for the labour market.

As Holt wrote, "Children are subject peoples. School for them is a kind of jail." Lister’s Deschooling Society collects excerpts from these thinkers alongside Lister’s own views. It’s a brilliant introduction to ideas that are still disconcerting today.

By Ian Lister,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Deschooling as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


Book cover of Rust Belt Boy: Stories of an American Childhood

Neill McKee Author Of Kid on the Go! Memoir of My Childhood and Youth

From my list on memoirs of childhood and youth.

Who am I?

As a creative nonfiction writer, I’m interested in exploring how the environments of our early years shape us. I read many different childhood memoirs while writing my own. Many of us have stories worth telling if we dig into our memories and let our creative juices flow. But it helps to have had an antagonist. The chemical stinks and pressure to conform in my hometown provided that, allowing me to use the humorous theme of escape. Everyone has had challenges to overcome, rivals, opponents, supporters, and friends, and that is the stuff of good stories. The feedback I have received indicates that, as I hoped, my memoir strikes a chord with many.

Neill's book list on memoirs of childhood and youth

Neill McKee Why did Neill love this book?

This was one of the first of many childhood and youth memoirs I read while writing my book. The author, Paul Hertneky, had a similar experience to mine in a larger immigrant-filled steel mill town, Ambridge, Pennsylvania. It’s an entertaining story of how he almost became a permanent resident, working in the mill like his father, but finally escaped this industrially-polluted environment, as I did. My hometown also had many newly-arrived immigrants and, at one time, I was also thinking of following in my father’s footsteps. The big difference is that my hometown never became part of the rust belt, although its deep water wells had to be closed down. It grew in size and the chemical factory, which once produced DDT and Agent Orange, remains in place today, very close to houses, but with more environmental controls. Still, the parallels between our two stories are interesting. 

By Paul Hertneky,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Rust Belt Boy as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

These stories are specific to one legendary riverfront plateau and one boy's journey, but are emblematic of immigrant life and blue-collar aspirations during the heyday of American industry and its crash, foreshadowing one of the largest internal migrations in U.S. history. Approximately six million baby boomers, like the narrator, fled the Rust Belt. Another six million remained and stories of their youth, struggles, and aspirations echo throughout this book. Pittsburgh alone attracts die-hard affinity with its scattered natives.


Book cover of The Good Wife

Troon Harrison Author Of Red River Stallion

From Troon's 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Who am I?

Author Companion of dogs and horses Grower of flowers Walker in the woods Freelance editor

Troon's 3 favorite reads in 2023

Troon Harrison Why did Troon love this book?

I’m a fan of historical fiction, and love novels that portray the social norms and attitudes of other eras in all their contradictory messiness. This novel shares the Elizabethan age in England, with its wild new ideas (alchemy) and its rootedness in a superstitious past (a belief in witchcraft).

Alone while her husband is away, Martha’s healing skills bring her unwanted attention. She must set out on the road to find her husband, traveling northwards through the countryside, surviving by wit, intelligence, and determination. Both the richness of the upper class, and the isolated poverty of the working class, are portrayed.

The author’s wordsmithing is truly beautiful, with vivid descriptions of complex and unusual characters, the landscape, the weather, and all that Martha experiences as she survives her journey. I reread certain passages several times, reveling in the prose. Reading this book was like time traveling, and I highly recommend…

By Eleanor Porter,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Good Wife as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Eleanor Porter is a major new voice in historical fiction.' Tim Clayton
Where will her loyalty lead her?

Once accused of witchcraft Martha Spicer is now free from the shadow of the gallows and lives a safe and happy life with her husband, Jacob. But when Jacob heads north to accompany his master, he warns Martha to keep her healing gifts a secret, to keep herself safe, to be a good wife.

Martha loves Jacob but without him there to protect her, she soon comes under the suspicious eye of the wicked Steward Boult, who's heard of her talent and…


Book cover of Up the Junction

Eliza Renton Author Of Faithful

From my list on featuring heroes to snuggle with on a cold night.

Who am I?

I'm an English writer now living in the wilds of Tasmania, Australia. My love of books began at school. I devoured the classics and couldn’t wait to audition for the lead in the next school play. Both my father and brother were in the military and I saw firsthand their love and duty for country, and family often with great cost to their mental health and wellbeing. I write stories about heroes like them and the women who win their hearts. Love takes courage. 

Eliza's book list on featuring heroes to snuggle with on a cold night

Eliza Renton Why did Eliza love this book?

This collection of short stories has a special place in my heart.

Stories written about people living in the early sixties in working-class London. The colloquial language rings true in my ears, and the stories belong in that special place held dear by my teenage self. Laugh or cry, I pick the book up when I am at most in need of, no place like home, comfort.

Ken Loach made a film based on the book and followed it up with another one of her books. Poor Cow. Dog-eared and well-worn, the books remain on my shelf.

By Nell Dunn,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Up the Junction as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

WINNER OF THE JOHN LLEWELLYN RHYS MEMORIAL PRIZE

'Her art is ignited by voice, as you hear it, is unquestionable' ALI SMITH, GUARDIAN

'Distinctive, pared-down style' DAVID EVANS, INDEPENDENT

'Unflinching look at the lives of working-class women' DAILY MAIL

Nell Dunn's scenes of London life, as it was lived in the early Sixties in the industrial slums of Battersea, have few parallels in contemporary writing. The exuberant, uninhibited, disparate world she found in the tired old streets and under the railway arches is recaptured in these closely linked sketches; and the result is pure alchemy.

In this novel, we witness…


Book cover of Tales of Mean Streets

Mick Finlay Author Of Arrowood and the Thames Corpses

From my list on the lives of the poor in 19th century London.

Who am I?

I didn’t know anything about Victorian history before I started writing the Arrowood books. The idea for the character of William Arrowood came as I was reading a Sherlock Holmes story. It occurred to me that if I was a private detective working in London at the same time, I’d probably be jealous, resentful, and perhaps a little bitter about his success and fame. That was the basis of Arrowood. I started to write a few pages and then realized I needed to learn a lot about the history. Since then, I’ve read hundreds of books on the topic, pored over newspapers in the British Library, and visited countless museums.

Mick's book list on the lives of the poor in 19th century London

Mick Finlay Why did Mick love this book?

This is another book written by a journalist. The stories in it are about the working class and destitute life in London at the end of the nineteenth century. Not only do they portray intimate relationships, prostitution, crime, and alcohol abuse, but they also give a sense of the life stories of the people who lived in these communities.

By Arthur Morrison,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Tales of Mean Streets as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This book was converted from its physical edition to the digital format by a community of volunteers. You may find it for free on the web. Purchase of the Kindle edition includes wireless delivery.


Book cover of The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes

Andrew Pettegree Author Of The Book at War: How Reading Shaped Conflict and Conflict Shaped Reading

From Andrew's 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Who am I?

Author Professor Restless Curious

Andrew's 3 favorite reads in 2023

Andrew Pettegree Why did Andrew love this book?

This is brilliantly written and deeply researched, with a wonderful cast of working-class autodidacts and some surprisingly well-known middle-class authors who did everything in their power to denigrate this hard-won learning.

It’s both revelatory and deeply moving. My only reservation was confessing that I had taken so long to discover it. It is a fantastic book and still the fundamental text in the field.

By Jonathan Rose,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

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.


Book cover of Paper Cup

Elissa Soave Author Of Ginger and Me

From my list on Scottish reads centring working-class women.

Who am I?

I am a Scottish writer and have long loved books from and about Scotland. But I would love to see more written about the working-class Scottish experience from women’s perspective as I think that would lead to less focus on the violence and poverty that is featured in so many contemporary Scottish books from male authors. There is so much joy in the Scottish working-class experience – a pot of soup always on the stove in someone’s kitchen, the stories, the laughter, a community that cares for their own. Let’s see more of that, and more stories from and about Scottish working-class women.

Elissa's book list on Scottish reads centring working-class women

Elissa Soave Why did Elissa love this book?

This beautifully written novel tells the story of Kelly, as she makes her way home to Galloway from Glasgow.

Homeless and with addiction problems, Kelly experiences some of the problems that Glasgow is sadly well-known for, but what I really love about Paper Cup is that we see these issues from a middle-aged woman’s perspective so there is no glorifying of violence and excess.

Instead we are drawn into the precarious world of a vulnerable and damaged woman, and made to consider just how easy it would be for any one of us to slip through the cracks and tread the same path as Kelly. A truly thought-provoking read.

By Karen Campbell,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Paper Cup as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

What if going back means you could begin again?

Rocked by a terrible accident, homeless Kelly needs to escape the city streets of Glasgow. Maybe she doesn't believe in serendipity, but a rare moment of kindness and a lost ring conspire to call her home. As Kelly vows to reunite the lost ring with its owner, she must return to the small town she fled so many years ago.

On her journey from Glasgow to the south-west tip of Scotland, Kelly encounters ancient pilgrim routes, hostile humans, hippies, book lovers and a friendly dog, as memories stir and the people…


Book cover of Common Sense and a Little Fire: Women and Working-Class Politics in the United States, 1900-1965

Anya Jabour Author Of Sophonisba Breckinridge: Championing Women's Activism in Modern America

From my list on American women activists.

Who am I?

I have always been drawn to biographies. Individual stories make the past personal. Biographies also transcend the usual boundaries of time and topic, illuminating multiple issues across an individual’s entire life course. I’m especially interested in feminist biography—not just biographies of feminists, but biographies that combine the personal and the political, showing how individuals’ personal experiences and intimate relationships shaped their professional choices and political careers. I also enjoy group biographies, especially when they weave multiple stories together to illuminate many facets of shared themes. Ideally, a great biography will introduce a reader to an interesting individual (or group of people) whose story illuminates important themes in their lifetime.

Anya's book list on American women activists

Anya Jabour Why did Anya love this book?

Common Sense and a Little Fire is a group biography of four Jewish immigrant women who became important leaders in the labor movement and the New Deal: Rose Schneiderman, Fannia Cohn, Clara Lemlich Shavelson, and Pauline Newman.  Building on their shared experiences growing up in New York City’s Lower East Side, these women challenged sexism in the labor movement and classism in the suffrage movement and became leaders in “industrial feminism,” which fused labor organizing and feminist activism. Annelise Orleck skillfully weaves together a variety of sources, including interviews with the women, as well as the women’s life stories to produce a compelling new history of working women’s activism.

By Annelise Orleck,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Common Sense and a Little Fire as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Twenty years after its initial publication, Annelise Orleck's Common Sense and a Little Fire continues to resonate with its harrowing story of activism, labor, and women's history. Orleck traces the personal and public lives of four immigrant women activists who left a lasting imprint on American politics. Though they have rarely made more than cameo appearances in previous histories, Rose Schneiderman, Fannia Cohn, Clara Lemlich Shavelson, and Pauline Newman played important roles in the emergence of organized labor, the New Deal welfare state, adult education, and the modern women's movement. Orleck takes her four subjects from turbulent, turn-of-the-century Eastern Europe…


Book cover of The Making of the English Working Class

Stuart Carroll Author Of Enmity and Violence in Early Modern Europe

From my list on getting started with early modern history.

Who am I?

I’m a historian of early modern Europe. I have a particular interest in the history of violence and social relations and how and why ordinary people came into conflict with each other and how they made peace, that’s the subject of my most recent book Enmity and Violence in Early Modern Europe, which compares the entanglement of everyday animosities and how these were resolved in Italy, Germany, France and England. I’m also passionate about understanding Europe’s contribution to world history. As editor of The Cambridge World History of Violence, I explored the dark side of this. But my next book, The Invention of Civil Society, will demonstrate Europe’s more positive achievements.

Stuart's book list on getting started with early modern history

Stuart Carroll Why did Stuart love this book?

I love this book because, as someone from a working-class background, this book really spoke to me as young person – I was born two years after it was published in 1965. It is profoundly wrong and romanticizes its subject, but it remains a classic, because Thompson was a brilliant writer and because henceforth no one could ignore those previously excluded from the historical narrative.

By E.P. Thompson,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked The Making of the English Working Class as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Fifty years since first publication, E. P. Thompson's revolutionary account of working-class culture and ideals is published in Penguin Modern Classics, with a new introduction by historian Michael Kenny

This classic and imaginative account of working-class society in its formative years, 1780 to 1832, revolutionized our understanding of English social history. E. P. Thompson shows how the working class took part in its own making and re-creates the whole-life experience of people who suffered loss of status and freedom, who underwent degradation, and who yet created a cultured and political consciousness of great vitality.

Reviews:

'A dazzling vindication of the…