Or is it only the last chapter of the long story of our ability to absorb foreigners, and draw new strength from their energy and enterprise? It is a highly topical question, and in this timely book Robert Winder provides a wealth of background information to try to reassure contemporary alarmists. He tells the story vividly, with fascinating contemporary quotations describing the impact of each new group of immigrants, from Jewish moneylenders to Huguenot weavers, from Irish labourers to Indian shopkeepers - until it seems hard to imagine Britain without these stimuli. He contends that we owe much more to immigrants than we think, and he hopes that by understanding the benefits "our own national pride can feel less clenched, less besieged".
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Shelves: history , This is a very good book indeed, 4. Very readable. Brilliant if flawed. At one stage, when he was listing several Dutch immigrants my mind began to swim and I feared it would turn into a book of lists.
I think he glossed over some of the more violent aspects of racism. On anti-Semitism he stated that anti-Semitism was utterly awful elsewhere and in Britain it was considerably less than utterly awful, and implied therefore that it was ok for Jews in This is a very good book indeed, 4. On anti-Semitism he stated that anti-Semitism was utterly awful elsewhere and in Britain it was considerably less than utterly awful, and implied therefore that it was ok for Jews in Britain.
Not that he was implying that therefore British Jews should forever give thanks that they were only treated moderately badly. This sort of repeated itself in his description of violence against Africans, Afro-Caribbean and Asians in the s. He made passing reference to the Irish migrants. He correctly pointed out that although Ireland was part of the UK Irish people were treated as foreigners and immigrants. I found the coverage of Irish immigration disappointing.
Perhaps too big a subject to tackle. But compared to the coverage given to Dutch, Huguenots and 19th Century Jews, the coverage of Irish was sketchy. I wrote after I finished my previous read When I Lived in Modern Times I reflected on my need to read more about post-World War 2 reconstruction, especially the enormous challenge of the humongous movememnt of people.
That previous book alluded to the Displaced Persons of Europe, especially Jewish people; I watched a TV programme about the millions of displaced Ethnic Germans from areas no longer under German rule Eastern Prussia in particular.
This book tells of the mass movement of British Empire people, partly the windrush generation - young men from the Caribbean who had served in British forces, especially RAF, and who returned to the West Indies with no hope, especially in Jamaica which had been devastated by hurricane in , and the bottom had dropped out of the sugar market. And then the movement of people in India and Pakistan after independence and partition, followed by East African Asians - and other East Africans - John Sentamu gets a name check.
I am beginning to understand that there is a major story to be told about post-war Polish migrants, and the epic journeys they made.
And within these stories lies the story of numerous friends, acquaintances, classmates, colleagues and, increasingly, relatives. This book is beginning to look dated, published in when the 8 former Eastern Bloc countries and Cyprus and Malta joined, and the issue of Free Movement of Labour became what it is.
Currently, there is the much bigger problem of refugees from the failed states of Syria, Iraq and Libya fleeing from ISIS, and people fleeing from specific problems in countries such as Eritrea and Somalia still.
In my opinion, this mass movement of people is as significant as that which happened in the s, and needs more vision than was applied then. However, there are rarely strong excuses for people not moving temporarily or making an awkward commute to acquire the skills to make them master or mistress of their own destiny - some uproot across continents, some go to University, some live in a bedsit whilst learning a trade.
Perhaps if you start off with an anti-immigration frame of mind you will find evidence to support your views, too.
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And it was possible to write a book about immigration that was clear-headed about the past and optimistic for the future. When Robert Winder did so, very many patted him on the back. But that was then. Before the political class started tearing its hair out about benefit tourism; before British jobs for British workers; before the Border Force fiascos; before the turbo-charging of racially and culturally loaded debates over honour killings, female genital mutilation and sexual grooming.
Bloody Foreigners: The Story of Immigration to Britain
Not all black and white