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The Life and Times of a Very British Man

by Kamal Ahmed

Biography / Autobiography Books of the Month Books with reviews by our Reader Review Panel The Real World

LoveReading View on The Life and Times of a Very British Man

The name Kamal Ahmed wasn’t familiar to me when I was first introduced to this book. It should have been. In my defence, I would argue that, as I watch little television, I may be forgiven. The case against me, however, would certainly point out that since one of my favourite programmes is BBC News – where Kamal has, since 2016, regularly appeared in his role as Economics Editor – I really ought to have recognised him. Hopefully, I will be forgiven.

Kamal Ahmed is a first generation descendent of a Sudanese immigrant father. I am third generation, through my grandmother’s family who come from South Africa – they were Xhosa and, I learned many years ago, from the same tribe as Nelson Mandela. And so, it was with an ever-increasing sense of déjà vu that I became absorbed by this book. 

Through a series of personal anecdotes, political comment and astute observations, The Life and Times of a Very British Man makes a compelling case for a new debate about what is it to be British, what makes us who we are and how we view those we consider to be ‘others’.

I don’t use the word ‘absorbed’ lightly. Kamal is a talented writer, something apparent from the very first pages. He uses language skilfully, not so much to impress, but to present his arguments logically and passionately. He is perceptive, reasoning and persuasive. And he is absolutely right as he asks the reader to consider what it is that makes us British?

Kamal Ahmed. Not a terribly British name is it?  That antithesis is, perhaps, something that makes the title of this work so germane. What is it to be British? To quote the author, he likes National Trust Houses, the Specials, Victoria sponge cake and double-cooked chips. What is it that makes us feel British?

At times disturbing, at times amusing, The Life and Times of a Very British Man asks searching questions about us, our country and our attitude to change. 

One day I hope to meet Kamal Ahmed and explain to him how, as I reached the end of this book, I realised a complete stranger had become a friend. I hope it does the same for you. I recommend it.

Matt Johnson

The Life and Times of a Very British Man Synopsis

A revealing, honest and often comic coming-of-age story about growing up in 1970s Britain on the boundaries of race Kamal Ahmed's childhood was very `British' in every way - except for the fact that he was brown. Half English, half Sudanese, he was raised in 1970s London at a time when being mixed-race meant being told to go home, even when you were born just down the road.

The Life and Times of a Very British Man makes the case for a new conversation about race in Britain through personal stories, political analysis and passionate belief in the ultimate good of this country. Kamal recounts the extraordinary circumstances that led to his father, a proud Sudanese scientist, marrying his mother, a grammar-school educated white woman from Yorkshire, and the first person he met off the plane. It was a time when wearing a miniskirt was an act of social rebellion, when 'n******' and 'coloureds' still formed part of the national lexicon and when Enoch Powell's infamous `Rivers of Blood' speech cast a shadow over the childhood of a brown schoolboy in Ealing.

Heartfelt, witty and profound, this is a modern state-of-the-nation from a man who adopted the name Neil growing up (it was better than 'camel') and went on to occupy one of the most elite positions in the British establishment. It is also a call to recognise that it is this very mix of white and black and brown that is the foundation for Britain as we know it - from Linford Christie taking Olympic gold to the era-defining music of Soul II Soul - and a study of why, when we consider the often fractious debate about our identity, there are still great grounds for optimism.

The Life and Times of a Very British Man Reader Reviews

In addition to our Lovereading expert opinion some of our Reader Review Panel were also lucky enough to read and review this title. You can click here to read the full reviews.

This is a wonderful heartfelt read, one that will make the reader laugh out loud, and question the way that we as a nation (well some of us) haven't changed, How sad is that? Full review

Angela Rhodes

A thought-provoking examination of what it means to be a British and accepted in the UK today. Full review

Sharon Wood

A well informed and entertaining look at life for immigrants in Britain over the years, and the changes made. Full review

Jan Kirkcaldy

A very thought provoking and interesting read about life in Britain for a British born "non-white". Kamal Ahmed has laid his thoughts and feelings out for all to see, and hopefully understand, what it's like to be different in your own country. Full review

christine woolfenden

Perfectly pitched in terms of tone with a combination of anecdote, social, political and economic commentary both from the 70's and the present day. Watch the YouTube video when instructed! Full review

Lisa Lovell

This book is quiet and subtle in tone, however, it made myself and my husband talk openely about the issues Kamal brought up about identity and race. A thought-provoking read for everyone. Full review

Maisie Hoang

A very honest view of a life that faced racism throughout and a realism that racism isn’t as much in the past as you would hope. Full review

Cathy Small

Thought-provoking book about being both brown and British. Extremely, well-written and informative look at the complexity of life as an outsider in your own country. Sometimes sad, sometimes funny, sometimes disturbing but well worth reading. Full review

Lynne Manton

A fascinating insight into the author's reflections on growing up as a mixed race man in Britain. A perfect starting point for discussion or simply as an interesting and informative read. Full review

Val Rowe

Kamal Ahmed has a wonderfully engaging and easy-going writing style and it is shown to great effect in this book. Full review

Karen McIntosh

An interesting insight into the cultural and racial evolution of the past 50 years. Full review

Neil Williams

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All versions of this book

ISBN: 9781408889183
Publication date: 18/10/2018
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
Format: Hardback

Book Information

ISBN: 9781408889183
Publication date: 18th October 2018
Author: Kamal Ahmed
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
Format: Hardback
Pagination: 352 pages
Genres: Biography / Autobiography, Books of the Month, Reader Reviewed Books, The Real World,
Categories: Memoirs, Autobiography: literary, Social & cultural history, Social discrimination & inequality,

About Kamal Ahmed

Kamal Ahmed is Economics Editor of the BBC and one of Britain's most respected journalists. He joined the BBC in April 2014 as Business Editor after a twenty-year career in newspapers. He has worked for the Guardian, the Observer and the Sunday and Daily Telegraph. He started his career in local newspapers in Scotland and subsequently worked for Scotland on Sunday. He has also served as Group Director of Communications for the Equality and Human Rights Commission and is a board member of the Media Trust. He lives in London.

More About Kamal Ahmed

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