The most recommended books about working class culture

Who picked these books? Meet our 6 experts.

6 authors created a book list connected to working class culture, and here are their favorite working class culture books.
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Mechanic Accents

By Michael Denning,

Book cover of Mechanic Accents: Dime Novels and Working-Class Culture in America

Daniel Silliman Author Of Reading Evangelicals: How Christian Fiction Shaped a Culture and a Faith

From the list on reading about reading.

Who am I?

I'm a journalist and a historian who writes about how American evangelicals are complicated. I was trying to explain Left Behind in graduate school and I talked and talked about the theology in the book—all about the doctrines of the rapture, the antichrist, and the millennium. Then my professor said, “But it’s fiction, right? Why is it fiction? What are people doing when they read a novel instead, of say, a theological treatise?” I had no idea. But it seemed like a good question. That was the spark of Reading Evangelicals. But first, I had to read everything I could find about how readers read and what happens when they do.

Daniel's book list on reading about reading

Why did Daniel love this book?

Denning is a master. He mixes literary analysis, historical sleuthing, and some smart ideological excavation to see how dime novels—treated like trash by most scholars—were used by working men and women in 19th century America. They were creating a culture and their reading did all the things that culture does: helped them make sense of the world, gave them a place to pay with ideas, and invent myths and narratives for orientation. All while middle-class scolds told them they were reading “wrong.”

If you’ve ever loved a book that wasn’t good for you, or wanted to seriously think about something that wasn’t “serious,” this book is for you.

By Michael Denning,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Mechanic Accents is a widely acclaimed study of American popular fiction and working-class culture. Combining Marxist literary theory with American labor history, Michael Denning explores what happened when, in the nineteenth century, working people began to read cheap novels and the ""fiction question"" became a class question. In a new afterword, Denning locates his study within the context of current debates on class and cultural studies.


By Kerry Hudson,

Book cover of Lowborn

Ruth Badley Author Of Where are the grown-ups?

From the list on troubled families and the secrets they keep.

Who am I?

I am a journalist with a background in performing arts and have spent much of my work life as a storyteller, fascinated by the process of knocking a narrative into shape, either for print or stage performance. My mother’s death prompted me to use those same skills to tell my own stories and the process has been the most satisfying of my professional life. As a memoirist of two books, my dreams have come true. My work has been shortlisted for awards, featured in national newspapers, special interest magazines, and by the BBC. I regularly speak to family history societies, book clubs, writer’s groups, and at literature festivals.   

Ruth's book list on troubled families and the secrets they keep

Why did Ruth love this book?

The author’s account of grinding, unrelentless poverty and neglect, set against her eventual, miraculous escape to a different life made me cheer.

Bravely, Kerry Hudson returns to the scenes of many crimes committed against her to really understand why the past refuses to let her go and whether anything has changed for deprived families in those rundown British towns she grew up in.

In an early chapter the author recalls being pushed between two adults across a table. She thought it was a game, but her parents were in fact arguing over who should keep her. Neither was willing.

This is an important and shameful piece of British social history and an unflinching examination of a dysfunctional family with different recollections of the past. 

By Kerry Hudson,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Lowborn as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Totally engrossing and deliciously feisty' Bernardine Evaristo

A powerful, personal agenda-changing exploration of poverty in today's Britain.

'When every day of your life you have been told you have nothing of value to offer, that you are worth nothing to society, can you ever escape that sense of being 'lowborn' no matter how far you've come?'

Kerry Hudson is proudly working class but she was never proudly poor. The poverty she grew up in was all-encompassing, grinding and often dehumanising. Always on the move with her single mother, Kerry attended nine primary schools and five secondaries, living in B&Bs and…

Me and Ma Gal

By Des Dillon,

Book cover of Me and Ma Gal

Brian Conaghan Author Of When Mr. Dog Bites

From the list on Scottish working class culture.

Who am I?

Brian Conaghan has written seven Young Adult novels. When Mr. Dog Bites, was shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal. The Bombs That Brought Us Together, won the 2016 Costa Children’s Book Award. We Come Apart - a collaboration with Sarah Crossan - won the United Kingdom Literary Award. His novel, The Weight of a Thousand Feathers, won the 2018 An Post YA Irish Book of the Year. The M Word was shortlisted for the An Post YA and Teen Book of the Year. Cardboard Cowboys, to date, has been nominated for the Carnegie Medal. Brian lives and works in the Scottish town of Coatbridge.

Brian's book list on Scottish working class culture

Why did Brian love this book?

A day in the life of two inseparable friends in an impoverished Scottish town where everything seems challenging. They learn what friendship truly means in the face of certain dangers. Dillon’s award-winning debut depicts the vitality and intensity of boyhood friendship, as well as painting a vivid picture of contemporary working-class Scotland.

By Des Dillon,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A story of boyhood friendship and irrepressible vitality told with the speed of trains and the understanding of the awkwardness, significance and fragility of that time. This is a day in the life of two boys as told by one of them.

Poverty Safari

By Darren McGarvey,

Book cover of Poverty Safari: Understanding the Anger of Britain's Underclass

Stuart Hanscomb Author Of Critical Thinking: The Basics

From the list on interpersonal communication and influence.

Who am I?

I am an academic at the University of Glasgow with a background in philosophy and psychology. My approach to critical thinking is broad and informed by several other teaching and research interests: emotional intelligence, the psychology of influence, interpersonal communication, and virtue ethics. Motivating much of what I do is the question: How are we to live well? With respect to critical thinking I don’t just deal with the nature and structure of arguments, but also with the role they play in constructive dialogues, and how poor reasoning is linked to psychological biases and the absence of certain virtues. The books I have chosen here are representative of these concerns.

Stuart's book list on interpersonal communication and influence

Why did Stuart love this book?

This is a seamless combination of autobiography, psychology, and politics, with an emphasis on the role of emotion – and especially anger – in expressing our views. McGarvey is politically savvy and refreshingly critical of both the left and the right, but for me, it’s the sustained self-reflection and emotional intelligence that makes this book outstanding. He has witnessed how anger, as a default feeling in his community, entrenches positions and limits people’s willingness and ability to understand themselves and listen to others. McGarvey tells how his own story exemplifies this attitude and his account of his awakening is fascinating and educational.

By Darren McGarvey,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Poverty Safari as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Brutally honest and fearless, Poverty Safari is an unforgettable insight into modern Britain, and will change how you think about poverty.

The Sunday Times Top Ten bestseller.
Winner of the Orwell Prize.
Named the most 'Rebellious Read of the 21st Century' in a Scottish Book Trust poll.

Darren McGarvey has experienced poverty and its devastating effects first-hand. He knows why people from deprived communities all around Britain feel angry and unheard. And he wants to explain . . .

So he invites you to come on a safari of sorts. But not the kind where the wildlife is surveyed from…


By Irvine Welsh,

Book cover of Trainspotting

Raf Beuy Author Of Iron Curtain 1987

From the list on stories set in the '80s (of the 20th century).

Who am I?

I'm a child of the 80s. Growing up in West Berlin, when Allied soldiers patrolled the streets, had a huge impact on my view of the world. There was this underlying feeling of uneasiness. I was well aware that Russian soldiers with tanks and nuclear weapons were waiting on the other side of the wall. Fascinating, terrifying times indeed. To convey this atmosphere to my readers is my foremost drive to write stories set within the framework of the cold war. Cheers and nastrovje!

Raf's book list on stories set in the '80s (of the 20th century)

Why did Raf love this book?

Self-abandonment. Haud oan a second. Ah wanted tae see Jean-Claude smash up this arrogant fucker.

You don't understand a word? Don't worry; you'll get the hang of it. Scotland is far from the rest of the world, as you can tell by the language. But in a way, this book is about what's happening in the world. It's about how to get lost and not find yourself again in the world. Just like Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo a decade earlier. It is a series of short stories that show the lives of people who follow no career path, who have no specific plot in mind for themselves, and end up with only random snippets of life, decay, and death—glimpses into the sad lives of people who get a fix when everything no longer makes sense. The stories are sometimes hard to take, but Welsh's writing style makes them worthwhile. 

By Irvine Welsh,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Trainspotting as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'An unremitting powerhouse of a novel that marks the arrival of a major new talent. Trainspotting is a loosely knotted string of jagged, dislocated tales that lay bare the hearts of darkness of the junkies, wide-boys and psychos who ride in the down escalator of opportunity in the nation's capital. Loud with laughter in the dark, this novel is the real McCoy. If you haven't heard of Irvine Welsh before-don't worry, you will' The Herald