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The English

A Portrait of a People

Jeremy Paxman

Publisher: Penguin, 1999 , 309 pages

ISBN: 0-14-026723-9

Keywords: Culture


Toggle Synopsis

Not so long ago, writes Jeremy Paxman, the English were "polite, unexcitable, reserved, and had hot-water bottles instead of a sex-life". Today the end of empire has killed off the Bulldog Breed - "fearless and philistine, safe in taxis and invaluable in shipwrecks" - and transformed the great public schools. Princess Diana was mourned with the effusive emotionalism of an Italian saint. Leader-writers in "The Times" even praise the sexual skills of English lovers ...So what are the defining features of "Englishness"? How can a country of football hooligans have such an astonishingly low murder rate? Does the nation's sense of itself extend to millions of black, Asian and other immigrant Britons? Is it grounded in arrogant, nostalgic fantasy or can it form the basis for building a realistic future within Europe? To answer these crucial questions, Paxman looks for clues in the English language, literature, luke-warm religion and "curiously passionless devotion" to cricket. He explores attitudes to Catholics, the countryside, intellectuals, food and the French. And he brings together insights from novelists, sociologists and gentleman farmers; the editor of "This England" magazine (launched in 1967 with the slogan "as refreshing as a cup of tea"); a banker enthusiastic about the "English vice" of flagellation; and a team at the OED looking for the first occurrence of phrases like "bad hair day" and "the dog's bollocks".

Table of Contents:

Toggle Table of Contents

  1. The Land of Lost Content
  2. Funny Foreigners
  3. The English Empire
  4. 'True Born Englishmen' and Other Lies
  5. We Happy Few
  6. The Parish of the Senses
  7. Home Alone
  8. There Always Was an England
  9. The Ideal Englishman
  10. Meet the Wife
  11. Old Country, New Clothes


The English

by Roland Buresund last modified 2007-12-08 17:40

Rating: ******* (Good)

This is a book that is probably very disliked by most Brits (or rather, most English). As a foreigner who has struggled to understand the English, I think this book is pretty good. It has humour, but sometimes get a bit boring. Also, you can't read small parts of it, as you need to read whole chapter by chapter, which makes it a lousy companion on buses or public transport, but make it interesting reading in hotel rooms or at home.

Please be warned, this book is intended to be funny, and not always historically correct, which is why there is a lot of anecdotes and folklore in the book. Nevertheless, it manages to convey an understanding of the English psyche to us perplexed foreigners.

In short, enjoyable.

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