The Peasants’ Revolting Lives by Terry Deary

‘Two nations between whom there is no intercourse and no sympathy; who are as ignorant of each other’s habits, thoughts, and feelings, as if they were dwellers in different zones, or inhabitants of different planets. The rich and the poor.’ – Benjamin Disraeli

Today we are aware of the habits, thoughts and feelings of the rich, because historians write about them endlessly. The poor are largely ignored and, as a result, their contributions to our modern world are forgotten.

Here, skilled raconteur TERRY DEARY takes us back through the centuries with a poignant but humorous look at how life treated the ordinary people who scratched out a living at the very bottom of society. Born into poverty, their world was one of foul food, terrible toilets, danger, disease and death – the last usually premature.

Wryly told tales of deprivation, exploitation, sickness, mortality, warfare and religious oppression all fill these pages. Discover the story of the teacher turned child-catcher who rounded up local waifs and strays before putting them to work. Read all about the agricultural workers who escaped the clutches of the Black Death only to be thwarted by lordly landowners. Follow as hundreds of children descend into the inky depths of hazardous coal mines.

On the flip side of this darkness, discover how cash-strapped citizens used animal droppings for house building, how sparrow’s brains were incorporated into aphrodisiacal brews, and how extra money was made by mixing tea with dried elder leaves. Courtship, marriage, sport, entertainment, education and, occasionally, achievement briefly illuminated the drudgery; these were the milestones that brought meaning to ordinary lives.

The oppressed and disempowered have lived on the very outskirts of recorded history, suffering, sacrificing and struggling to survive. The greatest insult is that they are forgotten; buried often with no gravestone to mark their passing and no history book to celebrate their efforts. Until now. The Peasants’ Revolting Lives explores and celebrates the lives of those who endured against the odds. From medieval miseries to the idiosyncrasies of being a twenty-first-century peasant, tragedy and comedy sit side by side in these tales of survival and endurance in the face of hardship.

The Peasants' Revolting LivesThe Peasants’ Revolting Lives by Terry Deary

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

FTC disclosure: I would like to thank Pen & Sword for providing me with an advance reader copy via access to the galley for free through the NetGalley program.

This book was fascinating! I’d recommend it to anyone. After reading this book I feel especially well prepared for a night of trivia. It was incredibly perceptive as it explored daily life and personal practices, living situations, origins of certain folklore, and social implications of peasantry, leading up to their revolt.

I loved the beginning question about choosing to live in any time in history and the answers that followed.

In referencing the Golden Age, comparing its perils to today, it was an enlightening exploration of how the impoverished experienced a certain way of life that only illuminated today’s strides in addressing social injustice, occupational hazards, sanitation, animal cruelty, entertainment, death, marriage, childbirth, child labor, legislation, literacy, technology, educational systems, captivity, and even sports.

Occupations themselves, such as matchstick girls, stood out to be one of the most shocking to me as far as risk for safety is concerned especially because of how far we have come in this world. It really gave a lot of perspective, respect, and value to our advancement in civilization.

The writing style was upfront clear and honest which I liked and further emphasized the very matter of fact tone and subject matter. The content showed a stark contrast as far as how humanity and social norms in general have come, which also lended itself to some humor since some of the concepts back in the day were quite absurd. There were bits of personal interjections that were lighthearted and confirming to my feelings which made this an amusing book to read.

I won’t comment too much on the writing in more detail or the organization itself because I did receive an ARC that was more in somewhat of an outline form than a final, cohesive piece. I do think from that standpoint the final form will likely be supportive enough to deliver such great content.

The quotes from historical figures and summarizations of points in time brought so much enrichment and credibility. References to classic literature, various philosophers, and playwrights such as Shakespeare was incredibly satisfying to me.

I think that each topic could also be expanded to provide further historical context and rationales of the time in a series type form, so I will be looking forward to reading more from this author.

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