> Skip to content
Play sample
  • Published: 14 May 2024
  • ISBN: 9780241543023
  • Imprint: Allen Lane
  • Format: Hardback
  • Pages: 400
  • RRP: $65.00

Remembering Peasants

A Personal History of a Vanished World

A landmark history of the lost world of peasants and all it has to teach us, from one of Britain's leading social historians

A way of life that once encompassed most of humanity is vanishing in one of the greatest transformations of our time: the eclipse of the rural world by the urban.

In this new history of peasantry, Patrick Joyce tells the story of this lost world and its people. In contrast to the usual insulting stereotypes, we discover a rich and complex culture: traditions, songs, celebrations and revolts, across Europe from the plains of Poland to the farmsteads and villages of Italy and Ireland, through the nineteenth century to the present day. Into this passionate history, written with exquisite care, Joyce weaves remarkable individual stories, including those of his own Irish family, and looks at how peasant life has been remembered - and misremembered - in contemporary culture.

This is a people whose voice is vastly underrepresented in human history. Yet for Joyce, we are all the children of peasants, who must respect the experience of our ancestors. This is particularly pressing when our knowledge of the land is being lost to climate crisis and the rise of industrial agriculture. Enlightening, timely and vital, this book commemorates an extraordinary culture whose impact on our history and our future remains profoundly relevant.

  • Published: 14 May 2024
  • ISBN: 9780241543023
  • Imprint: Allen Lane
  • Format: Hardback
  • Pages: 400
  • RRP: $65.00

Praise for Remembering Peasants

A dozen pages in I realized that I had been waiting for much of my life to read this extraordinary book. Anyone who has ever tried to unravel the intertwined skeins of ancestry, sociology, music, geography and history will gape at Joyce’s skill. On almost every page the reader gets a jolt, a palpable sensation of immersion in the disappeared world of peasantry. A central part of the book is Joyce’s own family’s peasant past. I too, like many people, am only two generations and one language away from these ancestors. Because the time of the peasants is still palpable there are clues and messages here for every fortunate reader who picks up this book

Annie Proulx

A first-class work combining social history and ethnohistory with an unerring sense for a good story


Joyce’s study is an elegy for a way of life, … a moving and sensitive rumination…What gives Remembering Peasants its distinctiveness and its depth is the import of that word 'personal' in his subtitle. Its poignancy is intimate…Joyce is as much a necromancer, summoning the dead and bidding them speak, as he is a conventional historian… His beautifully written book is …haunted by the ghosts of the dead but also full of the warmth of human sympathy. Remembering Peasants is imbued with the diffuse and melancholy glow of a sinking sun

Fintan O’Toole, The New York Times

Books such as Remembering Peasants are landmarks and waymarkers... This is important, vital writing and study. The level of craftsmanship in the book is evident, but so too is its heart and soul. Reading it, I was changed and charged… Joyce is essential reading for anyone who cares about our shared past. A profound book

John Connell, The Irish Times

Remembering Peasants is a work of salvage and salvation, a great rescuing of Europe’s earth-toilers from historical neglect and erasure… a heart-writ valediction… Joyce is a propitious name for a writer of Irish heritage, but the author is more Heaney than Dubliners; his prose is peat-rich, dense with feeling as well as fact

John Lewis-Stempel, The Times

A fascinating new book... Joyce has performed a recuperative service on behalf of an often disdained culture – one that now has all but vanished in Europe. Joyce has set out to rectify the record for the lost peasant generations who, historically, 'do not generally speak, they are spoken to'

The Guardian

Joyce takes us to some of the places Europeans have established to remember peasants... But the most poignant of all are journeys to his ancestral home in Ireland’s far west… As its title indicates, Joyce’s lament is also a call to remember. Well written, expansive and often deeply moving, this is a fitting monument to Europe’s peasants

Luka Ivan Jukic, The Financial Times

Joyce writes with a split consciousness, like a man recounting his dreams. It was so real, this lost life, and yet it is impossible to recapture

Jeremy Harte, The Literary Review

Joyce rages against the amnesia hardwired into today’s 'all consuming' present... A loving and unconventional work of genealogy, and a melancholic elegy for bygone ways of being

Andrew Lynch, The Irish Independent

In this elegiac history, Joyce presents a painstaking account of a way of life to which, until recently, the vast majority of humanity was bound… The relative absence of peasants from the historical record, and the blinding speed with which they seem to have disappeared, prompt a moving final essay on the urgency of preserving our collective past

The New Yorker (Best Books of 2024)

Passionate, intelligent… heavyweight and compassionate


It is really an ode, an elegiac lament for the passing of a distinctive way of life. But it is also something more personal, as the subtitle suggests: an act of veneration for the author’s own family

Jonathan Sumption, The Spectator

An insightful and evocative homage to the peasant way of life… Readers will be enthralled

Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Fascinating, elegiac... A lovely, scholarly, feeling (though never sentimental) account of glimpses and fragments, lifts a corner of the curtain on a world that will soon, to almost everyone, seem unimaginably strange and distant

Lucy Lethbridge, Prospect

The richness of this book… contains the seeds of more books, so numerous, deep and nuanced are the major themes uncovered

Fiona O'Connor, Morning Star