Emma Griffin, historian

Using hundreds of autobiographies penned between 1760 and 1900, Liberty's Dawn provides an intimate, firsthand account of how the Industrial Revolution was experienced by the working class. It reveals that the Industrial Revolution brought not simply misery and poverty. On the contrary, it raised incomes, improved literacy, and offered exciting opportunities for political action. For many, this was a period of new, and much valued, sexual and cultural freedom. In this rich personal account of social impact of the Industrial Revolution, the prize-winning historian Emma Griffin gets under the skin of the period and creates a cast of colourful characters, including factory workers, miners, shoemakers, carpenters, servants, and farm labourers.

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Praise for Liberty's Dawn

"A totally compelling account of the Industrial Revolution. Through a remarkable range of life stories, Emma Griffin opens up this extraordinary epoch of change, providing a brilliant chronicle of its social history and upending traditional interpretations in the process. With her light touch and rigorous scholarship, Griffin provides an important and rewarding overview of this defining moment in British history."
Tristram Hunt, author of Building Jerusalem: The Rise and Fall of the Victorian City

"Emma Griffin's brilliant use of the voices of the poor that survive in memoirs allows us to grasp the ambiguities and complexities of their encounter with the momentous changes of the Industrial Revolution as never before. It was not simply a time of hardship and disruption but of opportunity and release from social constraints. Griffin's stylish and accessible narrative marks a major shift in our understanding of this period that moves beyond economic abstractions: we hear the voices of those who lived through the creation of the world's first industrial society"
Martin Daunton, author of Wealth and Welfare: An Economic and Social History of Britain, 1851-1951

"An admirably intimate and expansive revisionist history"
Publishers Weekly

"She has produced an exciting new work that holds out the promise of something truly groundbreaking"
Amanda Foreman, Sunday Times

"Liberty's Dawn is a triumph, achieved in fewer than 250 gracefully written pages. They persuasively purvey Griffin's historical conviction. She is intimate with her audience, wooing it and teasing it along the way ... Historical revisionism at its very best"
Anthony Fletcher, Times Literary Supplement

"Griffin's crisp and accessible prose rests on a foundation of scrupulous scholarship"
Amanda Vickery, The Guardian

"This is a brave book that challenges accepted wisdom by offering a decidedly optimistic view of the impact of the Industrial Revolution on the opportunities, freedoms and choices available to the working class."
Pat Hudson, Times Higher Education Supplement

"Griffin has stumbled across an enormous treasure trove ... [will turn] almost all your preconceptions about one of the most signficant periods of British history on their heads"
John Preston, Daily Mail

"This is a novel twist on the story behind the Industrial Revolution. Griffin does a fine job in personalising the social history of the period by trawling through hundreds of autobiographies from 1760-1900 to offer first-hand experiences of how this era impacted upon the working classes, including a rise in income and improved literacy."
Steve Harnell, Who Do You Think You Are Magazine

"Griffin's excellent history of writing by those born in poverty ... shine[s] a light on what working men endured ... and what they felt about it, in their own words."
Lesley McDowell, Sunday Herald

"Dark Dickensian notions that creeping industrialisation brought only misery and poverty are challenged in this revisionist account ... If this all sounds very scholarly, it is. But while the author's purpose is a serious study, this won't prevent anyone from lapping up the inspiring stories in this meaty and satisfying book.
Lorraine Courtney, The Irish Times

"Griffin counters what she calls the dark interpretation of the industrial revolution in a provocative study. Surveying hundreds of autobiographical accounts by people who experienced the changes first hand, she finds that for much of the British working class the good wages and regular work that could be found in the factories more than compensated for the clatter of the machines."
The New Yorker

"Through the 'messy tales' of more than 350 working class lives, Emma Griffin arrives at an upbeat interpretation of the industrial revolution most of us would hardly recognise. It is quite enthralling ... fascinating in itself"
Elizabeth Grice, The Oldie

Liberty's Dawn offers fascinating and colorful first-person views of the period that, at least in material terms, launched the modern age
David A Price, Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond

Emma Griffin's fascinating book Liberty's Dawn ... does a real service in reviving the voices of working class people who lived the Industrial Revolution ... a terrifically interesting read.
Diane Coyle, The Enlightened Economist

Book cover of Liberty's Dawn by Emma Griffin