Jerry White is Visiting Professor in History at Birkbeck, University of London.
Author's home: UK
In 1901 no other city matched London in size, wealth and grandeur. Yet it was also a city where poverty and disease were rife. For its inhabitants, such contradictions and diversity were the defining experience of the next century of dazzling change.
In the worlds of work and popular culture, politics and crime, through war, immigration and sexual revolution, Jerry White’s richly detailed and captivating history shows how the city shaped their lives and how it in turn was shaped by them.
General Alex Dumas is a man almost unknown today, yet his story is strikingly familiar—because his son, the novelist Alexandre Dumas, used his larger-than-life feats as inspiration for such classics as The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers.
But, hidden behind General Dumas's swashbuckling adventures was an even more incredible secret: he was the son of a black slave—who rose higher in the white world than any man of his race would before our own time. Born in Saint-Domingue (now Haiti), Alex Dumas made his way to Paris, where he rose to command armies at the height of the Revolution—until he met an implacable enemy he could not defeat.
The Black Count is simultaneously a riveting adventure story, a lushly textured evocation of 18th-century France, and a window into the modern world’s first multi-racial society. TIME magazine called The Black Count "one of those quintessentially human stories of strength and courage that sheds light on the historical moment that made it possible." But it is also a heartbreaking story of the enduring bonds of love between a father and son.
Jerry White offers insight into the realities of life in a 'slum' community, showing how it changed over a 90-year period. Using extensive oral history to describe in detail the years between the wars, White reveals the complex tensions between the new world opening up and the street's traditional culture of economic individualism, crime, street theatre, and domestic violence.
Rothschild Buildings were typical of the 'model dwellings for the working classes' which were such an important part of the response to late-Victorian London's housing problem. They were built for poor but respectable Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, and the community which put down roots there was to be characteristic of the East End Jewish working class in its formative years.
By talking to people who grew up in the Buildings in the 1890s and after, and using untapped documentary evidence from a wide range of public and private sources, the author re-creates the richly detailed life of that community and its relations with the economy and culture around it. The book shows how cramped and austere housing was made into homes; how the mechanism of class domination, of which the Buildings were part, was both accepted and fought against; how a close community was riven with constantly shifting tensions; and how that community co-existed in surprising ways with the East End casual poor of 'outcast London'.
It provides unique and fascinating insights into immigrant and working-class life at the turn of the last century.