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The Middle Class: A History

By Lawrence James

So often we hear that an obsession with class is what defines the British. But when we talk of the middle class, what do we really mean?

When was it first possible to define such a thing and is the term still relevant today? Would members of the middle class recognise themselves in their historical antecedents?

The Middle Class: A History tells the rich and compelling story of this disparate and constantly evolving group whose materialism and hunger for social advancement is an index of Britain’s evolution. The death of feudalism, the furthering of democracy, the spread of literacy, the industrial and sexual revolutions, the development of mass media – the middle class is never far away, drawing up petitions, lobbying for changes in attitude and legislation, engaging in philanthropy, while always mindful to protect its own interests.

In this scholarly yet entertaining – and often highly amusing – account, historian Lawrence James has searched high and low to find the heartbeat of his subject. Balancing acuity with anecdote, he draws on an extraordinary range of sources, from medieval legal records to twentieth-century advertising slogans.

The Middle Class is a truly engrossing portrait of a sprawling and complex social group, so familiar to many of us yet so often misunderstood and unappreciated. It is a masterpiece of popular history.

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