Alison Light is a full-time writer. She writes and broadcasts chiefly on issues to do with British cultural life, literature and history. She is currently Honorary Professor in the Department of English, University College, London and Honorary Professorial Fellow in the Department of English Literature at Edinburgh University.

She was born in Portsmouth, UK and took a degree in English at Churchill College, Cambridge University. She then worked as a school teacher, as a studio manager at the BBC, and taught part-time in adult education. After gaining a doctorate from Sussex University she lectured in English at Brighton Polytechnic and at Royal Holloway College.

As the widow of the historian, Raphael Samuel, she spent several years helping to establish the Raphael Samuel History Centre and Archive: both are now flourishing in London.

Meanwhile she has written for the press, lectured part-time in English at University College London and as Professor of Modern English Literature and Culture at Newcastle University.  She has also held Honorary and Visiting Professorships, most recently at Sheffield Hallam University and Newcastle.

Her last book, Common People (2014), was shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson prize in non-fiction.



Alison Light


Public lecture: Family History for a Floating World

21st September 2017, 5.30pm. Alison will be giving a public lecture in Manchester Central Library on 'Family History for a Floating World', and reflecting on her book, Common People.
arrow-grey Register for Family History for a Floating World

Raphael Samuel Memorial Lecture 2016

Alison's lecture, Between Private and Public: Writing a Memoir about Raphael and Myself is now published in History Workshop Journal 83.
arrow-grey Listen to the podcast at History Workshop

Recent articles

Slightly Foxed coverA 'Diary' about the memoir Alison is writing can be found in London Review of Books, 2nd February 2017
arrow-grey A 'Diary' in London Review of Books
Alison writes about reading John McGahern's first novel The Barracks, remarkable - among other things - for its treatment of a woman with breast cancer in Slightly Foxed: The Real Reader's Quarterly, Issue 53, Spring 2017
arrow-grey Download A Lesson in Living (PDF)

Common People
has been published in the US

Common People: In Pursuit of My Ancestors has beeCommon People US book covern published in the US. Penelope Lively in the New York Times called it "The most powerful family history I have ever read."
And the Wall Street Journal hailed it as a "compelling portrait of a Britain in flux after the Industrial Revolution...full of moments where the public and the personal intersect to quietly devastating effect."
The Chicago paperback edition of Common People is now available.



“Few historians can match Light’s ability to see a subject anew and explore it with imagination and humanity.
Times Higher Education magazine

Light gives our thoughts space to breathe alongside her own.
Intelligent Life Magazine, Economist

Her instincts continue to be those of the dissenter.
London Review of Books