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The English: A Portrait of a People [Paperback]

By Jeremy Paxman (Author)
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Item description for The English: A Portrait of a People by Jeremy Paxman...

Outline ReviewWhat is it about the English? Not the British overall, not the Scots, not the Irish or the Welsh, but the English. Why do they seem so unsure of who they are? As Jeremy Paxman remarks in his preface to The English, being English "used to be so easy". Now, with the Empire gone, with Wales and Scotland moving into more independent postures, with the troubling specter of a united Europe (and despite the raucous hype of "Cool Britannia"), the English seem to have entered a collective crisis of national identity.

Jeremy Paxman has set himself the task of finding just what exactly is going on. Why, he wonders, "do the English seem to enjoy feeling so persecuted? What is behind the English obsession with games? How did they acquire their odd attitudes to sex and food? Where did they get their extraordinary capacity for hypocrisy?" He ranges widely in pursuit of answers, sifting through literature, cinema, and history. It is an intriguing investigation, encompassing many aspects of national life and character (such as it is), including the obligatory visit to that baffling phenomenon, the funeral of Princess Diana. Yet Paxman finds something fresh and interesting to say about even that now rather threadbare topic. In the end, he seems to find further questions to ask instead of answers. But why not? To him it is a sign that the English are acquiring a new sense of self. And some indication of this might lie in the obvious response to his remark that the English, being top of the British Imperial tree, had nicknames for their fellow nationalities--Jock, Taffy, Paddy, and Mick--but there was no corresponding name for an Englishman. Of course, there is one now, and it comes from one of the bits of empire to which so many undesirables were exported: Whinging Pom. --Robin Davidson,

Product Description
"Modest, individualistic, ironic, [Paxman's] book has all the virtues he attributes to the English themselves." (Evelyn Toynton, The New York Times)

Not so long ago, everybody knew who the English were. They were "polite, unexcitable, reserved, and had hot water bottles instead of a sex life." As the dominant culture in a country that dominated an empire that dominated the world, they had little need to examine themselves and ask who they were. But now things are different, and no one is sure just what it means to be English.

Jeremy Paxman explores English attitudes to the countryside, intellectuals, food, Catholicism, and the French, and brings together insights from novelists, historians, and gentleman farmers. Witty, surprising and incisive, The English traces the invention of Englishness to its current crisis and concludes that, for all their characteristic gloom about themselves, the English may have developed a form of nationalism for the 21st century.

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Item Specifications...

Studio: Overlook TP
Pages   309
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 9.06" Width: 5.97" Height: 0.83"
Weight:   0.87 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Jan 29, 2013
Publisher   Overlook TP
ISBN  1585671762  
ISBN13  9781585671762  

Availability  0 units.

More About Jeremy Paxman

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! Jeremy Paxman grew up thinking of himself as English, despite being one quarter Scottish. Currently the anchor of Britain's premier television news program, "Newsnight, " he has had a long and distinguished career in British television. His books include "On Royalty" and "Empire."

Jeremy Paxman was born in 1950.

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Product Categories

1Books > Subjects > History > Europe > England > General
2Books > Subjects > History > World > General

Reviews - What do customers think about The English: A Portrait of a People?

Conversation starter about English and British (and Scottish etc)  Dec 27, 2008
Well, I'm not English, nor British, so I can't say if this book passes the obvious test -- is it accurate? Paxman does seem to make a good attempt at detail, summarizing history and trying to explain the sometimes contradictory stereotypes we're all familiar with -- stiff upper lip, politeness, isolationism, imperialism, violent soccer fans. And, for Americans who tend to oversimplify, it's good to understand why Scottish (if that's even how you write it) and Irish are not English, and perhaps barely British. I figure I'll try to remember some of the themes and start conversations with my British co-workers.
Those happy few walking backwards into the future  Jan 20, 2006
"We few, we happy few, we band of brothers" - Henry V, according to Shakespeare, on the eve of Agincourt

"... the English have found themselves walking backwards into the future, their eyes fixed on a point some time at the turn of the twentieth century." - Jeremy Paxman

THE ENGLISH by Jeremy Paxman is an erudite, thoughtful, and thought-provoking essay on what it means to be "English". Jeremy addresses eleven general topics in the same number of chapters. The post-WWII loss of identity concurrent with the divestment of Empire. The English attitude towards foreigners. The submergence of English identity in Empire. The nebulosity of the attribute "true-born Englishmen". The English affection for being beleaguered against overwhelming odds (as at Agincourt, Khartoum, Rorke's Drift, Mafeking, Dunkirk, and during The Blitz). The Church of England. The English as misanthropes. The enduring fantasy of rural England. The "ideal Englishman", anti-intellectual and with stiff upper lip. Sex, and the status of women in society. And, lastly, dragging England out of its glorious past into an uncertain future.

Paxman volunteers insights that I, a visitor to England (and Wales and Scotland) multiple, but all too infrequent, times, would never have thought of:

"The picture of (arcadian) England that the English carry in their collective mind is so astonishingly powerful because it is a sort of haven ... a refuge conjured up in the longing for home of a chap stuck deep in the bush, serving his queen ..."

Or, this:

"The English fixation with weather is nothing to do with histrionics ... The interest is less in the phenomena themselves, but in uncertainty. ... It is the consequence of genuine, small-scale anxiety. ... life at the edge of an ocean and the edge of a continent means you can never be entirely sure what you're going to get."

Paxman's narrative is always interesting, and occasionally witty in a dry, English sort of way. Whether his conclusions are correct or not is best left to the judgment of the reader. (Indeed, anthropologist Kate Fox, in the first chapter of her book, WATCHING THE ENGLISH, maintains that Paxman missed the point with his weather observation.) For the most part, however, they seem eminently reasonable to me, although I might have encompassed one or two peculiarities that have become apparent during my lifetime love affair with the country, e.g., that the English seem to lavish more affection on their pets than their children.

Finally, I applaud the author's attempt to tease apart national characteristics of the English from the "British" overlay. Mind you, "English", "Welsh" and "Scottish", are all lumped under the political construct "British", which is oft wrongly equated with "English" by both ignoramuses and those that should know better. After my many visits to the island, what I remember most vividly (and superficially) are: "Mind the gap!", Cadbury dispensers on railway platforms, Marks & Spencer, the smell of coal smoke on a rainy day, the fluttering and cooing of doves in abbey ruins, roundabouts, kippers for breakfast, Indian take-away, the cold mustiness of the cavernous cathedrals, Scotch eggs, London Tube maps, the low-ceilinged (ouch!) gun deck of HMS Victory, time-warped floor boards in ancient wooden inns, gravestones in isolated cemeteries, and the pre-dawn departure of fishing boats from Portree on the Isle of Skye - only a few of which are unique to an English experience, but all are British.
I'm English... I think...  Jan 3, 2005
It's a kind of enigma really. Paxman writes a book about a people who, in his own words, don't really have any distinguishing features. Quite an accomplishment. That Paxman does it in an interesting and often witty way is something too.

But the language is often obscure. It's as if Paxman writes in order to demonstrate some new nugget of language he has found in the Oxford English Dictionary. I've been teaching English for 10 years and I'd never heard of some of the words he was using.

I've a feeling that this book will appeal little to people from the US in either style and content. If you are looking for a book that will introduce the English to you in a personable way you can relate to, get a copy of Bill Bryson's Notes from Small Island which will do it in a much nicer and far more approachable style.

If however, you are English yourself, you will find this book worth the read although if, like me, you find your national identity difficult to define, don't expect help here. In much the same way as Koreans describe themselves as "NOT Japanese" and the Japanese describe themselves as "NOT anyone else", Paxman tiptoes around the English to tell us how their neighbours are and how we aren't.

The result is a wonderfully ironic description very English in its understatement.
Well written, but not quite meaningful  Jan 26, 2004
Well, the style is very good indeed. It is quite evident that he comes from what he calls "The breed", but the insular character of "The English" gives a very unbiased view of what an English is. I could write another version of it, I think he was not successful in taking distance from the subject and in some cases not only minimises some facts about ordinary English life, in other cases he has not got a wider view from other cultures on how The English is seen from abroad.
I would suggest Mr. Paxman to travel a bit more accross Europe at least...
How to understand the English psyche  Oct 30, 2003
I'd never read anything by Paxman before, so like other reviewers, I wondered how academic this might be. In fact, contrary to the reviews on the flyleaf, I didn't find it as funny as they suggested it might be.
But I was not disappointed but delighted. I didn't want some flippant lightweight humourous prose, but I got a very well researched book with some funny bits.
I've recommended it to Americans who don't understand the English psyche.

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