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The English: A Portrait of a People by Jeremy Paxman

The English: A Portrait of a People
by Jeremy Paxman

Jeremy Paxman, author of the “witty, argumentative and affectionate book” The English: A Portrait of a People, notes that being English used to be easy. It’s true since the English were one of the most easily identified peoples on Earth, recognized by their language, their manners their clothes and the fact that they drank tea by the bucket load. But the English today are in a complicated position. When people from other countries occasionally come across someone whose upper lip sensible shoes or tweedy manner, they may identify him as English and they tend to react with amusement. Indeed, the conventions that have for so long defined the English are not “dead,” with special mention to the fact that the country’s ambassadors are more likely to be “singers or writers” rather than “diplomats or politicians.”

While the imperial English carried British passports as did the Scots, Welsh and some of the Irish, they however, don’t have to think it hard about interchanging being English with being British. But say the same in front of a Scot or a Welshman and you’ll infuriate anger. In fact, England’s Celtic neighbors are striking out on their own. In the May 1999 elections to the Scottish parliament and Welsh Assembly were hailed the Labours  as an act that is necessary to strengthen the nation (it was their idea to devolve the governments). But it is also worth noting that Scotland has been a nation even if it has been in union with England since the 1600s. It has its own legal and educational institutions while the Scots take pride of their culture and traditions. This is the first facet that Paxman’s book discusses.

The second one is the problem with Europe, given the “collective ambitions or delusion that has gripped the European elite,” which, only heaven knows when will end. If the idea of a United States of Europe ever strengthen, then, the United Kingdom will only sound redundant.
Also, Paxman discusses the “corrosive awareness” that no one country, England or Great Britain included, could “control the tides of capital that determine whether individual citizens will eat or starve.”

These, including the decline of the British Empire, the crack openings of the United Kingdom, the pressure to make stronger ties with a united Europe and the uncontrollability of the international business have all lead to the question of what it really means to being an English.

In this book, Paxman sets out to “discover the roots of the present English anxiety about themselves by traveling back into the past, to the things that created that instantly recognizable ideal Englishman and Englishwoman who carried the flag across the world”  and what had become of them.

Henry Porter of the Guardian praised Paxman for his “good” and “funny description of the current state of our race as you will find anywhere.” Meanwhile, Carmen Callil of Daily Telegraph hailed him for his ability to jump from one source to another which enabled him, in Callil’s words, to “shove the English in the right direction.” Meanwhile, Andrew Marr of the Observer wrote of the book: “An intelligent, well-written, informative and funny book” that details the “history; attitudes to foreigners, sex, food… sport… and so on.” To sum it all, it’s worth borrowing what The Times wrote. Paxman’s work is “stimulating, adventurous and witty.”

Grab a copy of The English: A Portrait of a People! Now available on Amazon.


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