On October 19 2011, after months of legal challenges, police swarmed into Dale Farm near Basildon and broke up the largest Gypsy and Traveller encampment in Britain.

"We come from Essex, we don't get riots," said Superintendent Iain Logan afterwards. "This was a wholly exceptional level of violence." The travellers concurred, but felt the police should shoulder the blame for it. "I couldn't believe that they let seven police officers advance with Tasers," said Gypsy campaigner Grattan Puxon. Outside, a media circus relayed what they could to a fascinated nation. Gypsies were a hot topic, thanks in no small measure to the hit stereotype-confirming TV show My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding.

Though the Dale Farm eviction is the centrepiece of Quarmby's book, it's supplemented with a history of travelling folk in Britain. Or, to put it another way, it's the story of the most persistent and socially acceptable form of racism in the country.

The story of Gypsies and Travellers in Britain may be unedifying, but it's certainly interesting. Minorities, Quarmby says, tend to be discrimin-ated against during "moments of collective identity-building", such as the establishment of a secular Tudor state. During the reign of Edward VI, Gypsies could legally be branded and enslaved for two years, and that's if they weren't executed for the misfortune of being born Gypsies.

Closer to the present day, Quarmby follows the legislative battles fought by sympathisers and opponents, studies how the emergence of New Age Travellers and the expansion of the EU complicated matters further, and notes the rise of evangelical religion in the Gypsy community, theorising that a Martin Luther King-type figure might arise to raise consciousness and demand respect.

Even in households where anti-Semitism and Islamophobia would be unacceptable, slurs against Gypsies and Travellers are still allowed to propagate, which is why Quarmby's book deserves to be given due prominence. Without greater under-standing there will be more, and bloodier, Dale Farms will follow.