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.

chapter 1|23 pages

English society before and after the coming of industry

The passing of the patriarchal household: parents and children, masters and servants

chapter 2|34 pages

A one-class society

Social divisions and power relations amongst nobility, gentry, townsmen and peasants

chapter 3|31 pages

The village community

The scale of life in cottage, farmstead, manor house and church

chapter 4|26 pages

Misbeliefs about our ancestors

The absence of child marriage and extended family households from the English past

chapter 5|17 pages

Births, marriages and deaths

The recovery of the English population record since the close of the Middle Ages

chapter 6|36 pages

Did the peasants really starve?

Famine and pestilence amongst English people in the pre-industrial past

chapter 7|32 pages

Personal discipline and social survival

With notes on the history of bastardy and of sexual nonconformism in England

chapter 8|28 pages

Social change and revolution in the traditional world

With an attempt to expunge the phrase ‘the English Revolution’

chapter 9|20 pages

The pattern of authority and our political heritage

Social deference, political obedience and the county community of gentry

chapter 10|18 pages

The politics of exclusion and the rule of an Élite

Literacy and social mobility in the traditional social structure

chapter 11|26 pages

After the transformation

English society in the early twentieth century

chapter 12|13 pages

Understanding ourselves in time