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Big Babies: Or: Why Can't We Just Grow Up? [Hardcover]

Michael Bywater
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)

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Book Description

2 Nov 2006
Have you ever had the feeling that, in some hard to define way, we are throwing away two and a half millennia of Western civilization, bit by bit, as our culture becomes more and more infantile? That day by day we grow more and more focused on the quick fix, the ticking-off, the expedient lie, the jingle, the spin, the catchy slogan, the obsession with safety, the horror of risk, the terror of complexity, the preoccupation with surface, the apportioning of blame, the instant gratification? Have you ever wondered what happened to grown-ups? Michael Bywater turns his penetrating eye on the state of Western culture, from politics and the media to show business and science, and concludes we are all Big Babies now. He argues that the Baby-Boom generation is now running the show, and its own commitment to perpetual infantility is reflected in its unstoppable drive to infantilize the rest of us. Ranging from the White House to Buckingham Palace, from MTV to the BBC, from mission statements to Viagra spam, Bywater examines advertising, music, politics, the health industry, education, religion, fashion, sport and publishing, and makes a fierce and often hilarious case that, in almost every area of our lives, we are inexorably becoming...Big Babies.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Granta Books; First Edition edition (2 Nov 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1862078831
  • ISBN-13: 978-1862078833
  • Product Dimensions: 21.6 x 14 x 2.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 871,558 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

I suspect [this book] might change our world... it details, in shocking and visceral and wincingly recognisable fashion the way in which we are treated, by government and advertising and people who write signs and, well, everyone really, as if we are all mewling infants who have to be told, essentially, look look shiny shiny coin coin every forlorn second of every babyish day. --The Observer

Sharp, very funny and slightly disturbing...it is hard to know which group should be more despised: that which bosses and patronises with its imprudent warnings or that which feebly acquiesces. But one thing is certain: neither is likely to read Big Babies, for it is far too intelligent, witty and original to appeal to any of these infantile minds...Bywater must be our leader, Big Babies our bible. --The Telegraph

Michael Bywater [is] a wonderfully sharp and witty writer, whose sentences sing and dance, whose fluffiest paragraphs are held up by a steal core of thought. --The Scotsman

Christopher Fowler

"Raises serious social issues while cracking plenty of willy
jokes"

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
By Jeremy Walton TOP 1000 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover
I greatly enjoyed Bywater's Lost Worlds, his collection of little elegaic pieces on things that have vanished from the UK (ranging from 'Adolescents, Envy of', and 'Bakelite' to 'Warm, The British' and 'Throat, Cigarette Smoke That Was Kind To Your'). Accordlingly, I had high hopes for "Big Babies", believing that it would be a cut above the rest of the everything-is-rubbish books that are currently all the rage.

It makes a good start, as Bywater presents the thesis that we've become 'infantilized', unwilling to take responsibility for our actions, unable to make sensible choices, not wanting to question what we're told, etc. He backs this up with some standard complaints about things like over-legislation and safety notices; although this has all been said before, it's useful to hear it again (at one point, just after I'd read his indictment of a hot water tap to which had been affixed a "CAUTION: Hot water" notice, I looked up from the book and saw a tap with a label reading... "CAUTION: Very hot water"). He also references my personal peeve in this area - i.e., notices that say things like "Our staff have a right to work in a stress-free environment, and we shall proscute anyone who assaults them" - doubtless well-intentioned, but could anyone seriously imagine that they'd make a would-be assailant (even if literate) think twice about their actions?

However, although Bywater's a good writer, he doesn't really develop this idea, and I got a bit tired of the continued re-iteration of this theme, beginning to think that there really wasn't enough material here to warrant a full-length book.
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20 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A rallying cry, set to music by wit 19 Nov 2006
Format:Hardcover
Not to be mistaken for a grumpy old man rant, nor the affable malignity of light weight attacks on our culture, this is a serious but beautifully observed lament for the loss of our autonomy, hilarious in its dire examples of how we are diminished by the plethora of warnings, notices, inducements that litter our daily lives. With Bywater's help we can stay alert to the seductive charmlessness of remaining forever in a child like state of obedience, silliness, and acceptance of presciptive behaviour and can avoid the folly of lifelong immaturity and irresponsibility.

For all those adventurers who have never worn their baseball caps backwards, nor thought of remaining on the escalator once it has reached the next floor and will risk buying Christmas crackers without fear of 'explosive content'.
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21 of 28 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars good cultural criticism 14 Nov 2006
Format:Hardcover
I was a little put off this book by little irritants (something about it suggested it was going to be smug!) but was quickly engaged and I now reckon it to be the best of the recent slew of state-of-the-nation books.

Bywater's perspective on our malaise is that it can be attributed to the "infantilization" of the population, a trend he relates to the attempts by corporate advertising to be "matey" while (really) robbing us blind. We are big babies because we are happy to suckle these teets, zone out on ipods and walk around oblivious to others in a kind of "oceanic disconnection". Growing up would result from chucking out the air guitar, dressing better and enjoying a more substantial diet - culturally and culinary.

There is an excellent part on the prevalence of holding things in abeyence through bracketting - through concepts such as "liberal democracy" or "random people". When you write like this, Bywater says, you are recognising the ambiguity of the terms you are applying. This ammounts to, in effect, adding "so-called" to the front of every concept you utilise. One effect of this "living life as in brackets" is to live in a perpetual abstraction. I found this to be reminiscent of passages from Marcuse' One-Dimensional Man where he goes on about concepts (like "beauty") which exceed what you can say about them. This is probably not revolutionary stuff and I suspect Derrida is (was?) on to something simular but I found it to be well presented in here.

An interesting artivle in the Humanist magazine saw Bywater expand on his thesis a bit. He considered the twin fundamentalisms of Dawkins and the Islamists as being equally crude babyish desires to have "clear dogmatic meaning or none at all!" - a perspective to be trumped by "ambiguity, nuance and subtlty". It is towards cultivating these low-key virtues that maturity lies.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A well argued piece 27 Feb 2007
Format:Hardcover
Michael Bywater hit the nail on the head by opening this book with the statement: "Something has gone wrong". I've felt the same way for years now, but could never articulate exactly what it is, unlike Mr. Bywater. It seems that all our woes can be traced back to the Baby Boomer generation refusing to grow up and both behaving and treating others like big babies.

I found this a much better read than his 2004 offering, "Lost Worlds". Instead of being a collection of snippets, the entire book develops the Big Baby thesis in Michael Bywater's unique style. It's thought-provoking and entertaining - what more do you want!

Be a (wo)man and buy the thing!
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5.0 out of 5 stars Welshdissent 25 Jan 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Brilliant I didn't realize myself how much we are treated like kids. I enjoyed it and it was food for thought.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars An underboiled Curate's egg
What a shame - this book can't decide whether to be a sensible addition to a profitable debate, a long-running single joke, or a sneer down the nose at lesser mortals. Read more
Published 7 months ago by Pickhandle
3.0 out of 5 stars Agree with the content but not the stance.
Michael Bywater is right that we are behaving like big babies and gives examples of this and provides evidence. Read more
Published 9 months ago by Lemsip
4.0 out of 5 stars DELIGHTFULLY RANTY CRITIQUE OF SOCIETY
Well thought out with some choice words, this carefully planned wake-up call to the world wears the disguise of a spontaneous improvised monologue, but soon sweeps you away in a... Read more
Published 13 months ago by B. DONNELLY
3.0 out of 5 stars The inspiration for Dirk Gently does it
Michael Bywater - the inspiration behind the Dirk Gently character in Douglas's Adams's detective novels - is a very funny man. Read more
Published 17 months ago by Luke Edwards
3.0 out of 5 stars Must read but not perfect
Interesting writing style, a must read if you had enough of being treated like an idiot by the nanny state. Read more
Published on 27 Jun 2009 by Dingo666
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant book - just buy it
This man knows what he is talking about.

His writing is articulate, enthralling and funny. Read more
Published on 10 Jun 2009 by A. WARD
2.0 out of 5 stars Editorial stretched to book length
Had Big Babies been an editorial piece in a newspaper it would have been a thought provoking and funny piece. Read more
Published on 30 Jan 2009 by J. Duducu
5.0 out of 5 stars Sense in a nonsensical world
A healthy dose of uncommon sense wrapped up and delivered in a hilarious diatribe. Read it, I urge you. In fact, do more than read it, absorb it. Read more
Published on 1 Dec 2007 by R Judd
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