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The English: A Portrait of a People Paperback – 6 Sep 2007

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Product details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (6 Sept. 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141032952
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141032955
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 1.9 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (109 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 94,599 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Jeremy Paxman was born in Yorkshire. He grew up thinking of himself as 'English' despite being one quarter Scottish. He is a journalist, best known for his work presenting Newsnight and University Challenge. His books Friends in High Places, Fish, Fishing and the Meaning of Life, The English, On Royalty and The Political Animal are all published by Penguin.


Product Description

Amazon Review

What is it about the English? Not the British overall, not the Scots, not the Irish or 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 spectre 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 the fellow nationalities--Jock, Taffy, Paddy and Mick--but there was no corresponding name for an Englishman. Of course, there is now, and it comes from one of the bits of empire to which so many undesirables were exported: Whinging Pom. --Robin Davidson --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

Intelligent, well-written, informative and funny.A book to chew on, dip into, quote from and exploit in arguments (Andrew Marr Observer)

Bursting with good things (Daily Telegraph)

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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 5 May 2000
Format: Paperback
I really enjoyed this book. A great read for anyone who has had the pleasure of observing that unique species; the English, from some sort of objective view. Paxman packs the book full of little interesting anecdotes, views, stories, and visions of the English. It provides some insight into these people, but that isn;t really the point. The book is simply showing their facets, how they look at life and those core values that they have. I'm not sure if you can enjoy this book as a proud English nationalist, it hacks away the nice curtains around the English world and exposes it to the sunlight a little too much. I read passages out to my friends; the non-English, or those who have lived abroad for many years, fell about laughing. The English... well some of them were quite offended actually. Still, it's all in good fun. Enjoy!
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Peasant TOP 500 REVIEWER on 10 May 2012
Format: Paperback
This is a book which seems to have annoyed a lot of people; few bestsellers get such a low star rating. Why? Paxman's subtitle is "A Portrait of a People", and I suspect this may be where the problem lies. I cannot imagine anyone bought this book without seeing Paxman on television. His style, whether accosting politicians or taking ignorant students to task on University Challenge, is abrasive, opinionated and impatient. Also, of course, intelligent, witty and direct. So when we find these qualities in his book, it can hardly come as a surprise.

I've read "The English" three times now since it came out. It is certainly enjoyable, undoubtedly provocative. But it isn't so much a portrait of the English people as a collection of human beings, as a discussion of the IDEA of Englishness; the idea which English people have about themselves, and which foreigners have about us. This idea of Englishness, like most people's self-image, is only very slightly the product of honest self-examination, and consists in bulk of vanity, self-deceit and wishful thinking. Perhaps, when we see this self-image reflected back in such a harsh light, we are a bit taken aback.

Of course not all English people share the same view of what it is to be English, and Paxman gives a lot of time to the particular myth of Englishness which was developed to keep up civilian morale during the Second World War; the extent to which we embraced that image, and the way it has been undermined in the decades since. This is an interesting tale, but has relatively little to do with what "The English" are really like.

Paxman's jolly rant is highly amusing, and helps us see both the weakness and the strengths of this national mythology.
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31 of 34 people found the following review helpful By John Startin on 1 May 2000
Format: Paperback
Paxman leaves the reader with the firm impression that they are simply not well enough read to be thumbing the pages of The English. It is a very densely written book, packed full of annecdotes and asides, and I enjoyed reading it. But it is more of a water-colour than a sketch - the author applies layer upon layer upn layer of detail, and the reader is given the feeling that neither he, nor Paxman, knows exactly what the English are really about. This may be Paxman's point - nationhood is too dense a subject to be delineated in simple terms. Maybe...
I enjoyed the book, but it is not an intuitive read. Dense, witty, but generally a little confused - Paxman's sharp wit, of the genre displayed on Newsnight, was sadly lacking as a punctuation to a rather rambling tome.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By MonkeyUK on 20 Jan. 2000
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I enjoyed this book, Paxman examines many influences on the English nature, the Church, Schools, the Empire both in its accumulation and its decline, geography, women, war, Europe, to name but a few, more than giving us the English now it shows us where we were and why, perhaps now, there is this crisis of identity. Paxman indicates where we might go, but the book is mainly historical. To answer our German friends crticism, the reason no identification is given, is because the English are lurching between the old ideals and something new. It is just that we do not know what that is yet, but Paxman does give us his thoughts on this point. The witty observations and style of the book, make what could be a heavy subject a first class read.
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25 of 28 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 20 Jun. 1999
Format: Paperback
About two years ago, a Romanian friend of mine asked me for some help on a dissertation she was preparing called 'The National Identity of the English'. This, to her was a completely natural request for help: she could have easily answered, as could any half-intelligent Romanian, the reverse question on Romanian national identity, even in these troubled times. However, to me, this 'simple' question posed enormous problems. I could not find one book to help me. Scotland... yes, Wales... yes and even Britain but not England.
Eventually, after weeks of fruitless search, the best I could come up with was a book on the 'Empire English'. However, even here, it was a story of the British national identity which bears little resemblance to the England of today with a 'crisis' of devolution of Britain and prospects of further 'encroachment' on our England from Europe.
So, her question had raised many questions in my head about the new nature of England: questions of what the English identity really is. Paxman, in this book, answers many of these questions whilst raising many more.
This book takes us on a journey through time. The move from the typically British identity to a new English one of today. Paxman's sharp, if journalistically cynical, observation and writings lead us towards the recognition of a new English nationalism and the picture of one that will emerge after Britain has finally separated. It could be recommended to any Englishman or women who want to express their idea of England and to any foreigner who wants to know who we are.
In the future on being asked the question 'Explain the National Identity of the English' I will have no hesitation in giving this book as the best answer available today.
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