Private Island: Why Britain Now Belongs to Someone Else

“Do yourself a favour: read Private Island and find out what has really happened in Britain over the past 20 years.” – John Gray, Guardian

“The essential public good that Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair and now Cameron sell is not power stations, or trains, or hospitals. It’s the public itself. it’s us.”

In a little over a generation the bones and sinews of the British economy – rail, energy, water, postal services, municipal housing – have been sold to remote, unaccountable private owners, often from overseas. In a series of brilliant portraits the award-winning novelist and journalist James Meek shows how Britain’s common wealth became private, and the impact it has had on us all: from the growing shortage of housing to spiralling energy bills.

Meek explores the human stories behind the incremental privatization of the nation over the last three decades. He shows how, as our national assets are sold, ordinary citizens are handed over to private tax-gatherers, and the greatest burden of taxes shifts to the poorest. In the end, it is not only public enterprises that have become private property, but we ourselves.

Urgent, powerfully written and deeply moving, this is a passionate anatomy of the state of the nation: of what we have lost and what losing it cost us – the rent we must pay to exist on this private island.


  • “James Meek’s superb book exposes the perversities, hypocrisies and failures of privatisation. Meek is a writer of fiction as well as a journalist, and it shows: he crafts beautiful and vivid passages that turn what could be a dry subject into a highly readable study.”
  • “James Meek's brilliant book, bracing in its detail and sweeping in its scope, makes clear just how central privatisation is to the story of contemporary Britain: some of it will make you sad, some of it will make you furious, but you are guaranteed to be left feeling that you understand this country much better.”
  • “Do yourself a favour: read Private Island and find out what has really happened in Britain over the past 20 years.”
  • “One activity in which Britain leads the world is privatisation. From Thatcher to Cameron, prime minister after prime minister has flogged off our public assets at rock bottom prices to the private sector. The result has been massive returns for investors and middle men, poorer services for the public – and a downgrading of our entitlements as citizens. All this is detailed by James Meek in a book that stands as one of the most powerful critiques of the mess that is Britain’s economy.”
  • “[A] devastating account of the privatisation dogma of the past 25 years... As demolition jobs go, this can hardly be bettered.”
  • “An energetic and colourfully told polemic against privatisation.”
  • “If you have a taste for historical irony & absurdity, you'll love this book.”
  • “You don’t have to be…excessively sentimental about the public service ethos to find the story Meek tells here genuinely shocking.”
  • “One of the country’s finest writers.”
  • “Entertaining, vastly intelligent.”
  • “This is the definitive account of how so much has gone and continue to go wrong with Britain’s institutions. Don’t read it all at once – it’s too depressing.”
  • “A Virtuoso […] mixture of hard–won knowledge and literary flair.”


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