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The English : a portrait of a people di…
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The English : a portrait of a people (originale 1998; edizione 1999)

di Jeremy Paxman

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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 something has happened. A new self-confidence seems to have taken hold in Wales and Scotland, while others try to forge a new relationship with Europe. The English are being forced to ask what it is that makes them who they are. Is there such a thing as an English race? Witty, surprising, affectionate, and incisive, Jeremy Paxman 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 twenty-first century.… (altro)
Utente:Arten60
Titolo:The English : a portrait of a people
Autori:Jeremy Paxman
Info:London : Penguin, 1999.
Collezioni:La tua biblioteca
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The English: A Portrait of a People di Jeremy Paxman (1998)

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Serious attempt to get at a national character for the English (not the British, which includes Scotland, Wales and a bit of Ireland--and, he says, is a concept, not a people). ( )
  beaujoe | Jul 19, 2021 |
These are the thoughts that Jeremy had. They were watered and they were fed. They grew very big (big enough for a book) in his head. This is the book that Jeremy wrote with his thoughts big and strong. For Jeremy had fed them so they could tackle any other thoughts that thought to come along.

So if you agree with Paxman, you will find support for your side of the argument within this book. You will find a whole lot of it, actually. Should you want to know the other side of the story this may not be your book. I genuinely enjoyed reading it but fair and balanced it is not. Paxman came, he saw and he wrote about it. ( )
  ednasilrak | Jun 17, 2021 |
The first time I ever came across Jeremy Paxman was in a Calgary bookshop where I saw "The English" for sale. The front cover promised laughs a plenty so I threw caution to the wind and bought it. I did not laugh once while reading this book; indeed I have trouble remembering if I smiled at all.

Paxman also fails in painting a portrait of the English, using only the broadest of brushstrokes and the most selective of examples. Bill Bryson wrote far better about the English, and he's American. ( )
  MiaCulpa | Feb 8, 2018 |
The English is a disappointing read, but it's hard to pinpoint why. Paxman writes clearly and (occasionally) perceptively. His anecdotes and examples are well-chosen, even if they are sometimes too selective, and the topic is a rich and interesting one that should be a joy to unpack.

Partly, I admit, my disappointment with the book was that it didn't chime with my own views. It's hard to shake a sense of defeatism and a wearying strain of negativity throughout. Now, of course there is a strong element of decline in any reading of modern British history. Paxman is right (and thoroughly absolved) when he points out that "the belief that something has rotted in England is widely held: a people cannot spend decades being told their civilization is in decline and not be affected by it" (pg. 17). But Paxman neither fully embraces this negativity nor gives sufficient airing to a more positive view of the English; rather, he treads a meandering course through the middle of it all. Often, you don't know where Paxman stands on a certain issue and you get lost amidst all the anecdotes (which consequently lack the force they would have got from bolstering a certain viewpoint).

When he does make a stand on a certain issue, it is in favour of views that are (still) quite popular only amongst the privileged political classes in Britain. He comes down strongly in favour of mass immigration and multiculturalism, experiments by the country's insulated elites that have, in the years since, been found wanting and widely deemed to have failed, even amongst former proselytizers like Trevor Phillips. There is a strong argument to be made that it was policies like this that helped dilute the sense of what it meant to be English. No wonder Paxman couldn't find it.

So the book shows its age here – not least in that it repeats the lazy party line on multiculturalism without seeking even to defend it, for in the late Nineties when it was written it was so commonly accepted as indisputable fact. But its creaking, outdated stance would be more palatable if Paxman wasn't also dismissive of 'bigots' and 'thugs' when referring to those ordinary people who expressed concern about the collapse of communities and the rise of political correctness and 'no-go' zones. Paxman's book in these moments looks woefully narrow-minded and out-of-date, especially now in a post-Brexit age which has crystalized such discontent into a political force we still don't fully understand.

But this is not entirely – and not even mostly – about disapproval of contrary views on my part. It would be fine having different views as long as you could still see some kind of academic merit or method in the approach: that, at least, would endure through all the years since publication. But Paxman's approach is selective, haphazard and lacking the clear force of argument. His logic and perspective is sometimes off: one particularly big clunker occurs when describing the slums and disorganization of English industrial towns. He contrasts them with the beauty and coherent city-planning of French towns, for France "had the great advantage of industrializing later than the British" (pg. 163). It is incredible tunnel vision: yes, being late to the Industrial Revolution perhaps meant France could plan its city infrastructure with more care, but it also meant it missed out on the prosperity, primacy and influence Britain reaped as the first industrial society. The largest empire ever seen, untold wealth, the development of English as the world's second language, the scientific development and technologies… But, yeah, French towns got wider streets, so win. What?

I wasn't expecting anything forensic, just something with a bit more rigour and foresight as to what Paxman wanted to portray in writing about the English. In the concluding chapter, where Paxman should be re-emphasising his main points and perspectives before making a few final poignant thoughts to stick in the memory of the reader, he instead introduces a previously unmentioned observation about hooliganism and the general British love of getting drunk, writes pages and pages on this, before saying: "The vast majority of English people do not spend their time getting drunk, fighting and throwing up" (pg. 254). Then why devote the majority of your concluding chapter to it? For all its nice moments, the book as a whole is a bog.

It is also very unbalanced. As I mentioned earlier, there is a strong feeling of negativity throughout the book, even though Paxman himself doesn't really come down forcefully in promoting such a view. Rather, this effect is created by Paxman spending too much time outlining the various faults and character flaws of the English (or, more specifically, Englishmen), complete with damning anecdotes and examples. After such a construction, he will then say something along the lines of "of course, not all...", and then summarize the various successes or positive traits in a brief couple of sentences which are kept vague and devoid of detail or qualification. It is as if he enjoys rooting through the negative stuff, and includes positive achievements almost offhand – compensatory fillips at the end of each critique. But that, I suppose, is also quintessentially English: "to ignore the silver lining and to grasp at the cloud" (pg. 17). And I suppose that's also what I've done in this review. The clear prose and the anecdotal colour are the silver lining of Jeremy Paxman's The English. But the great mass, I'm afraid, is all cloud. ( )
1 vota MikeFutcher | Apr 21, 2017 |
This was reasonably interesting, but I agree with cazfrancis that it's nowhere near as good as Kate Fox's Watching the English. Although the book contained some facinating facts, it didn't feel like it was breaking new ground. ( )
  lettice | Apr 29, 2012 |
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Being English used to be so easy.
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No one can read Trollope or even Barbara Pym and believe the Church of England has a mission to the poor and oppressed.
The most famous of Rupert Brooke's war sonnets was written at the end of 1914. The poem was acclaimed immediately. Its marriage of some of the strongest ideas of Englishness - goodness, home, the countryside - encapsulated exactly how the English wanted to see themselves.... At the end of 1914 the British Expeditionary Force was losing 80 % of its strength ... at the Battle of Ypres.... Once the scale of the casualties and the paltriness of the gains had sunk in, pastoral whimsicality rang hollow. The dreams of clean-limbed heroes dying for a land of rose-scented hedgerows had been replaced by something altogether darker, in the verse of Wilfred Owen or Siegfried Sassoon.
Preserving the past is the hobby of the wealthy. The poor are more worried about a better future.
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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 something has happened. A new self-confidence seems to have taken hold in Wales and Scotland, while others try to forge a new relationship with Europe. The English are being forced to ask what it is that makes them who they are. Is there such a thing as an English race? Witty, surprising, affectionate, and incisive, Jeremy Paxman 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 twenty-first century.

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