The World We Have Lost  book cover
1st Edition

The World We Have Lost

ISBN 9780367705329
Published May 17, 2021 by Routledge
358 Pages

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Book Description

What was life like in England before the Industrial Revolution? The World We Have Lost is widely regarded as a classic of historical writing and a vital book in reshaping our understanding of the past and the structure of family life in England.

Turning away from the prevailing fixation of history on a grand scale, Laslett instead asks some simple yet fundamental questions about England before the Industrial Revolution: How long did people live? How did they treat their children? Did they get enough to eat? What were the levels of literacy? His findings overturned much received wisdom: girls did not generally marry in their early teens, but often worked before marrying at much the same ages that young people marry today. Most people did not live in extended families, or even live their whole lives in the same villages. Going beyond the immediate structure of the family, he also explores the position of servants, the gentry, rates of migration, work and social mobility.

Laslett’s classic work was crucial in causing an important sociological turn in early modern English history and remains as fresh and exhilarating today as upon its first publication.

This Routledge Classics edition includes a new Foreword by Kevin Schürer.

Table of Contents

Foreword to the Routledge Classics Edition Kevin Schürer


1. English society before and after the coming of industry

2. A one-class society

3. The village community

4. Misbeliefs about our ancestors

5. Births, marriages and deaths

6. Did the peasants really starve?

7. Personal discipline and social survival

8. Social change and revolution in the traditional world

9. The pattern of authority and our political heritage

10. The politics of exclusion and the rule of an élite

11. After the transformation

12. Understanding ourselves in time

General Note

List of Authorities


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Peter Laslett (1915–2001) was a Life Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge. A leading historian of his generation, he was one of the founders of the Cambridge Group for the History of Population and Social Structure. A passionate advocate for using radio and television to help history reach a wider audience, he worked as a BBC radio producer and ran a series of programmes on Anglia Television, the 'Dawn University'. With the sociologist Michael Young he also helped establish the Open University in 1969.


"Peter Laslett’s greatest gift as his best-known book, The World We Have Lost, suggests, was more for evocation than analysis: to bring back to life, in all their confusion, ingenuity and suffering, the human beings who have long gone." - John Dunn, The Independent

"The outcome of years of research…transformed our knowledge of the English family…Laslett showed how life in pre-industrial society was no idyll." - The Telegraph