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Best New Thinking Winner 2010

Bookshop – Nation Brands Books


Notes from a small Island, Bill Bryson Black Swan 1995
Bryson is a popular writer probably the biggest travel writer of them all so should be familiar. Still worth a look because he knows Britain well but despite being an Anglosphile cultivates the amused baffled detachment of the foreign traveller. The account is interesting because it also encloses his recollections from arriving in Britain as a teenager in the 1970s and how the country has changed by the late 1990s. He's smart and readable. This deserves a lot more than to be read on the beach on your holiday. Get studying.
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The angry island: hunting the English, A A Gill Gladwell 2006 Phoenix
This book is a treasure - brilliant written and terribly funny, it is a polemic against the English. Peculiar because as far as I could work out Adrian Gill has spent his entire life in England. However he chooses to adopt a Scottish stance and pour invective on our voices, our humour our pets and so it goes on. However in spite of himself he mellows and begins to write with real affection. His chapter on War Memorials is awesome and moving - one of the reviews says it should be a set text. It showed how interesting a polemical point of view can be - actually strangely disarming because the attacks are so extreme that your guard is down when he moves from caricature to insight. Brilliant.
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Instructions for American Servicemen in Britain 1942,
Bodlean Library Originally duplicated on foolscap to brief the Yanks on the peculiarities of the Limeys this is a bizarre and fascinating read about what Americans make of us. It has the added benefit of bringing in all that WW2 oddness and glamour Which makes it even more interesting. Sometimes its like looking through a window into an Ovaltine commercial. I would say a must on every planner's shelf. I doubt your audience descriptions are ever this interesting. Read learn and digest. There's a companion volume for British servicement in France 2 years later so our lads could make sense of our French chums.
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Watching the English, Kate Fox 2004 Hodders
This book has had rave reviews. I wasn't so convinced I'm afraid. Its not a brief read - I wonder how many of those raving about it had read it all. It is a patient attempt to derive the rules of being English. Now the subject matter is broad. But I started to get a little edgy when she analyses English pub behaviour and claims that pubs are pretty egalitarian places where class makes no difference. She obviously hasn't been in the pubs around where I live. I became more irritated when it became evident that conversations at dinner parties were being treated as fieldwork interviews. All well and good as long as all the English have dinner parties and you get invited to a good selection. I'm not convinced this was the case. If she had called it Watching Twickenham or Ealing I wouldn't have minded half so much but this is a claim covering some 40 million people on what must be pretty sketchy evidence. The final straw came when we moved daringly into the realm of sex. About which she claims not to be an expert - well no nicely brought up English gel would would she? But by virtue of a mate of hers (dodgy fieldwork again) she claims that despite the reputation the English have for reserve there are no rules in their love making. Hang on. I thought the whole point of an anthropological take was to derive rules? Surely this is the one thing an anthropologist cannot say because it undermines the premise of social science in the first place. So a long read and pretty sweeping. Her conclusions a rather like a qualitative debrief. It does seem rather familiar - but it was always going to wasn't it? Which conclusions shouldn't make the journey by which she got there irrelvant - I just think that England is a lot more diverse and contradictory than she makes it out to be.
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