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Winner of the Royal Society of Literature Ondaatje Prize 2014 Winner of the Orwell Prize 2014

Alan Johnson's childhood was not so much difficult as unusual, particularly for a man who was destined to become Home Secretary. Not in respect of the poverty, which was shared with many of those living in the slums of post-war Britain, but in its transition from two-parent family to single mother and then to no parents at all...

This is essentially the story of two incredible women: Alan's mother, Lily, who battled against poor health, poverty, domestic violence and loneliness to try to ensure a better life for her children; and his sister, Linda, who had to assume an enormous amount of responsibility at a very young age and who fought to keep the family together and out of care when she herself was still only a child.

Played out against the background of a vanishing community living in condemned housing, the story moves from post-war austerity in pre-gentrified Notting Hill, through the race riots, school on the Kings Road, Chelsea in the Swinging 60s, to the rock-and-roll years, making a record in Denmark Street and becoming a husband and father whilst still in his teens.

This Boy is one man’s story, but it is also a story of England and the West London slums which are so hard to imagine in the capital today. No matter how harsh the details, Alan Johnson writes with a spirit of generous acceptance, of humour and openness which makes his book anything but a grim catalogue of miseries.


the best memoir by a politician you will ever read

Philip Collins, The Times

a poignant memoir…Johnson writes wonderfully

Mary Kenny, Telegraph

deeply moving and unforgettable

Lynn Barber, Sunday Times

a handsome and eloquent tribute

Peter Wilby, Guardian

beautifully, beautifully written... his style is utterly simple, with a wit so understated that every reader will believe that he or she alone got it

John Rentoul, Independent on Sunday

Neither mawkish nor sentimental, it is an evocative, filmic account on an early childhood... would make a fabulous drama that, for all its squalor, lifts the spirits

Judith Woods, Daily Telegraph

a testament to the power of family love and a tribute to two strong women

Ian Birrell, Daily Mail

Wonderful and moving... unreadable with a dry eye

The Times

the biography of a politician like no other - beautifully observed, humorous, moving, uplifting; told with a dry self-deprecating wit and not a trace of self-pity

Chris Mullin, Observer

No ordinary politician's memoir ... wonderful.

John Grimond, The Spectator

Truly remarkable. A brilliant portrait of what it was like growing up poor in London in the 1950s.

Julia Langdon, The Tablet

I love this book. Here is a classic account of working class life... It deserves to the read and admired

Paul Bailey, The Oldie

gracefully written

Times Literary Supplement

Alan Johnson may be the best Labour prime minister Britain never had, but his exceptional memoir is mercifully free of politics… all this he recalls in quiet, unpretentious prose

Intelligent Life

Outstanding... Hailed by readers of all parties and none, it is a popular piece of literature rated by Hilary Mantel, with a rare ability to make old men cry


An amazing and inspiring story

Claire Tomalin, Independent

The most extraordinary insight into growing up in urban poverty in our time

Jon Snow

He recalls his childhood in detail, plainly, movingly, sometimes amusingly, but without a trace of self-pity or bitterness…a handsome and eloquent tribute


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Formats & editions

  • Paperback


    March 15, 2014


    304 pages

    RRP $19.99

    Online retailers

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    Find your local bookstore at booksellers.org.au

  • EBook


    May 9, 2013

    Transworld Digital

    304 pages

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