10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brillant
Having family originate from the same postal area as everytown (and one member live on the same road 'Flash Lane'), I bought the book with interest if not slight reluctance - half expecting some patronising exposition on working class life. However, I found every page was a genuine delight. Informative, interesting, witty and accurate. Sure, it is from the 'outsider'...
Published on 15 Dec 2008 by D. Horner
19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A Guide to the English Mind....but for whom ?
I was looking forward to this book which put itself forward as a study of the philosophy of life of the typical Englishman, his fears, his aspirations and his ethical beliefs; all of this garnered from a 6-month stay in England's most average postcode. Unfortunately, amusing as it is in parts, it never really lives up to its set ambition. What is worse, there are parts...
Published on 2 Dec 2007 by G. G. Durante
Most Helpful First | Newest First
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brillant,
This review is from: Welcome to Everytown (Hardcover)Having family originate from the same postal area as everytown (and one member live on the same road 'Flash Lane'), I bought the book with interest if not slight reluctance - half expecting some patronising exposition on working class life. However, I found every page was a genuine delight. Informative, interesting, witty and accurate. Sure, it is from the 'outsider' perspective, but what else did you expect? Baggini to effect a 'Rovram' accent and attempt to be a cross between Sean Bean and Wittgenstein?
The reivews of the book surprised me - flawed by straw men and ad hominems. As one who has also 'escaped' the area through university, I found this book gave me a fresh perspective on how dangerous it is to criticise mass culture - the section on the Da Vinci Code says more about middle class snobbery than you would expect. Buy this and enjoy.
19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A Guide to the English Mind....but for whom ?,
This review is from: Welcome to Everytown (Hardcover)I was looking forward to this book which put itself forward as a study of the philosophy of life of the typical Englishman, his fears, his aspirations and his ethical beliefs; all of this garnered from a 6-month stay in England's most average postcode. Unfortunately, amusing as it is in parts, it never really lives up to its set ambition. What is worse, there are parts that read just like an exploration of the mythical North/South divide.
Some problems are evident from the beginning. Baggini focuses on an aspect of English life and then, with the admittedly dubious aid of opinion polls, the tabloid press and conversations with locals in the boozer, constructs a set of extremely general truths about English society and the practices of the common man. What are often presented as original insights into the English mind are, I'm afraid, platitudes which apply to almost any modern nation in the Western world. For example, with much fanfare and preparation, we are told that we are obsessed by status, tolerant but wary of other cultures and prefer familiarity and convenience to that which is alien or challenging. There is nothing distinctly English about this.
One reason why the results of Baggini's investigations are disappointing may lie within the author himself. He comes across as extremely ingenuous, a sort of Hugh Grant of the writing world, jumping into everyday pursuits with a sort of trepidation which can only come from living a very withdrawn life. He is shocked by cinema food / snack prices and openly admits he has never betted before. In certain cases, an outsider's view can lend a degree of objectivity to a cultural history but Baggini's lack of participation in the English way of life previous to his trip up North ultimately acts as an obstacle to revealing its key characteristics.
At one point in the book, there is a jab at two other writers, Paxman and Scruton, who are chided for having ignored the average man and concentrated on literary figures and historic events to define the English. One gets the distinct feeling that Baggini might have been more comfortable with this approach.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Most enjoyable,
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Accessible, humourous, human but still solidly intellectual,
Which is all to the good and the reason I started this review on the dodgy non-literary ground of that awful subject, promotion and readership; because to be honest, I strongly believe as many people as possible in the UK [and beyond] should be given this book to read, and read it they would, because this is an extremely accessible- but at the same time wonderfully erudite and thought provoking- piece of work.
Baggini establishes himself for six months in the most typical postcode in the country according to ACORN, and ends up in S66, which is flagged up as one of those that are the most typical in the UK.
Baggini is unapologetic of the fact that it is in England, and makes this an `English Journey' to a certain extent. And he's right to be so, in that England accounts for a full 85% of the UK in population terms alone, and despite what Celtic nationalists may say to the contrary, whether we like it or not England sets the agenda socially and economically these days for the wider UK as much as ever.
So the author finds himself just outside of Rotherham, eventually settled into a rented house for his summer to Christmas stint away from his metrophile lifestyle in Bristol.
It is this transition of lifestyle and urban environment that Baggini is so honest and refreshingly open about. He neither condescends nor tries to go `native;' he knows his own strengths and limitations with regard to his own place in English society and relentlessly strives to observe and be fair in his judgements, in of course true English fashion.
And I would say at all times he succeeds admirably in his aim and he reaches a broad conclusion in which of course he himself fits perfectly; England is in fact made up of `tribes', we all belong to one, whether it be in a working class industrial suburb, or part of the Chipping Norton set. We all gravitate to communities where we feel comfortable amongst people who are similar to us, and although tolerant of, rarely mix with anyone outside of that community.
This is a good over-riding consideration for many of the issues Baggini deftly covers here: multiculturalism, a national past-time of inate `illiberalism', the pursuit of a comfortable Good Life, and our propensity to fall into three broad categories of social positioning- herds, hefts and individuals. In fact I found Baggini's take on these three groups particularly profound. Some people prefer to live in herds, allow themselves to be channelled with little thought of their own into doing and thinking as a higher authority tells them. Others wish to be outright individuals, although as Baggini rightly points out, the current apparent rise of Individualism should not be confused with the wider process of individualisation. It is one thing to choose your clothes, interior decoration and profession in order to enhance/reinforce your status within a wider group you wish to belong to, and another to pursue an anarchic individual existence outside of any group structure.
Which leads of course to Baggini's idea of the heft; sheep need not be herded, they can be `hefted'. This means they can live within a field without fences and so have a right to roam but within limits- limits they however chose not to over-step. This sense of unseeable but firm limits to their existence is even `handed-down' from one generation of sheep to another. It's of course not difficult with such a concept, to then see which of the three categorisations the vast majority of us in the UK sit firmly within.
This is a rich book that even a relatively lengthy review cannot do justice to, so I would urge you to just read it. Baggini comes quickly to the conclusion that we essentially, as a nation, is one full of conservative communitarians. A sense of community is not dead; we still crave to live in any number of them, but we are basically conservative with a small `c' in our outlook. We apply the maxim of live and let live wherever possible regardless of class, creed or colour; we are as a nation hard-wired to be tolerant, and it is only when our own lifestyles and livelihood are directly threatened, that we become defensive and strike out. As such we can be rather non-ideological in much of our outlook; we don't want an `easy' life, but we sure do want a comfortable one without too much awkward thought cluttering it up.
This I found to be one of the most illuminating of political observations, and something our political movements- particularly on the Left, which in these times of all times need to be revitalised and able to develop a new, coherent message- too often fail to take into account.
Clutching at straws to find a flaw in this book, I did find Baggini being a little soft on the tabloid press. He quite rightly says that they do after all just report what the public wish to hear and read about, and they would soon go out of business if they didn't. The only problem is our tabloid press are not passive actors in the reporting of news; they set the agenda to a very large extent, and decide how to present news and opinion that actively shapes the wider public's outlook- often without allowing for any countering opinion for that public to consider. Our popular press therefore I fear, create a general public more in their own image than I think Baggini gives them credit for...
But a relatively small niggle and it in no way detracts from the solid intellect that runs through this book, whilst remaining one that is also supremely accessible. It's a great book about contemporary Britain and where we've come from, and one that easily eclipses the efforts of the Paxman's et al of this world.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting reading,
The conclusions are not that surprising and but backed up with various statistics and polls as well as Baggini's own observations. Overall it is an even-handed, intelligent and interesting read concluding that despite beliefs to the contrary the average English person does have a consistent philosophy just one that is different from that of the average liberal set.
5.0 out of 5 stars Amusing account of bemusement,
Even if he's not actually being self-deprecating and telling stories
at his own expense, he gives the impression that he is, and so his
criticisms can be read in that same light-hearted vein.
Second up, I personally long ago abandoned any idea that books
should fulfill their stated ambition, either as stated in publishers
blurbs or on the dust jacket. Far from concluding whether or
not English attitudes add up to a definitive philosophy , an
impossible task if ever there was one, this is simply an
engaging examination of various facets of life as lived
in a statistically average English Town.
So much for the good bits.
Unfortunately this book contains a number of glaring howlers
which should have been picked up at the editing stage if not earlier.
page 3. Having written pieces for the "Guardian" himself
might Julian Baggini not reasonably have been
expected to know that it was C.P.Scott, himself the
editor of the Manchester Guardian for 47 years, who
famously said "Comment is free, but facts are sacred" ?
Rather than C.P "Two-Cultures" Snow, the post-war
novelist and chemist.
p 106. It wasn't Alan Clark who demonstrated his upper
class disdain in describing Michael Heseltine as
"somebody who bought his own furnture". He was
recording a remark made by Michael Jopling in his,
Clark's Diary, which he himself considered "snobby".
The point being that Clark's GG-Grandfater, rather than
being landed gentry was a Paisley weaver, who made his
fortune by developing cotton into an effective substitute for
the silk whose supplies were cut by the Napoleonic War.
He subsequently invented wooden cotton reels as well.
On the basis of that fortune Clark's father, the Art
Historian Kenneth Clark, was able to buy his own castle
- a rundown Saltwood at a knock down price in the 1950's.
Having already bought his own, Old Master paintings,
often at knockdown prices in the 1930's.
Alan Clark knew this as well as anyone, and never
pretended otherwise. The standing joke in the family
was that it was his wife Jane who was included in Debrett's
on account of her own lineage, whereas Clark wasn't.
p.140 It wasn't Ludwig Wittgenstein who claimed that
"life without music would be a mistake", but
Friedrich Nietzsche. Such a remark is so untypical
of Wittgenstein, that it sticks out like a sore
thumb. Given that this particular mis-attribution
comes at the end of the chapter on food, perhaps
Wittgstein's request to the wife of his former
pupil Normal Malcolm, while on a visit to them
in America, to serve him with the same plain food
every day during his visit, might have been more
appropriate ? Typically English in fact.
4.0 out of 5 stars Get to know the area !,
This review is from: Welcome to Everytown (Hardcover)Having recently moved nearby in this area and having come across this book by accident, it is very interesting to read more about this location. Much of it maps out very well, especially when I am talking to a local resident, and appears to be a true reflection of life in this area.
I even recognise the first picture !
2.0 out of 5 stars Not much of a journey into the English mind,
Secondly, Baggini takes the view that the English 'philosophy' (read attitudes) have not changed much in several decades. His examples of this are unconvincing however. He points out that girls who sleep around too much are still labelled 'slags' and that people still get married. But he fails to note that no one in their right mind would expect a woman to be a virgin when they marry. Or that marriage is not as permanent as it once was. A related problem is that he does not examine the structural aspect of people's lives. That is, he points out that people use their cars a lot, but he does not comment on the economic structures that have created this tendency, choosing to see it as a 'preference' instead. This is a related issue to that of change because people's lives have changed recently partly in response to changing structural forces. Failing to notice this is serious intellectual shoddiness.
And finally, at the risk of sounding mean, you end up feeling that despite all Baggini's efforts at research, he gets most of his 'data' from four blokes in a pub. I hope his other books have a bit more thought in them than this one.
4.0 out of 5 stars The definition is left to the reader,
This review is from: Welcome to Everytown (Hardcover)As a Londoner, I could understand what Baggini was talking about. Metropolitan cities only impose on us social behaviors that are not really how we would go about business if we were not living under the pressures of London or Manchester of "being cool" or liking "alternative art". We would just do what makes us feel comfortable, which what the majority of the English do: Eat, drink, work and holiday.
Whether he succeeded in portraying the English as they really are, is something completely left up to the reader, and his own experience and perception of the English. He concludes his book with a statement that the English don't fully know themselves and what makes them English, and he is to an extent, right. The English as a people, are very practical people by nature. His statement that the English perceive food as fuel rather than joy, is , in English bravado "spot on". Be it London, Brighton or Everytown, if you are a gourmet, you don't go to a pub, or a fish and chips place, and that remains the case today. The number of pubs throughout the country by far outnumber any restaurants that serve anything other than "pub grub" style, and the pub is where you will find the Englishman, or any other person living in Enlgand for that case. So that must be the way the people prefer it. So his view on the English and the drink is also in its place.
He starts out his journey in Everytown, which is, according to statistics, the most "English" place in England, where the majority of people in everytown do what the majority of English citizens do: consume, drink, watch blockbusters and are set in their own ways.
Biaginni tends to lean towards making statements and opinions rather than giving facts about his fellow countrymen, but when it comes to describing a community, it really is what the majority does and there is no black and white, right or wrong, and its a social science, which at best, is descriptive. Americans eat ketchup, Englishmen go to pubs. Why? That's just because. They like, it works. The author gives examples and talks about his personal experiences, and including research and statistics to measure, but tends to introduce opinion to fact, but when your talking about the English, it's almost the same. It's practical.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An informative and interesting read - if you can get through it.,
This review is from: Welcome to Everytown (Hardcover)Julian Baggini - Everytown:
Overall "Welcome To EveryTown" can get a bit annoying. Mr Baggini spends so much of the book trying look impartial and un-judgemental that he comes across as very much so. He despises (nearly) everyone else's views on the nation, apart from his own - which he's not that sure about. Reading his perspective on the different elements of the English psyche you can almost feel his presence, sipping on smug juice and with each word grunting gloats of self appreciation. This would be ok but as the concept of the book is talking about every day England and the every day English man it's hard to read what he has to say objectively when he is quite clearly looking (very far) down on pretty much everything.
That's not to say that he's not got some very interesting idea's here. And annoyingly enough he spends a lot of the time being right about the UK's state of affairs. His perspective on the English mind is very accurate in parts, it's nothing really new but if you manage to navigate your way past the general sense that Julian is always right you'll find an interesting, if not groundbreaking read.
Most Helpful First | Newest First
Welcome to Everytown by Julian Baggini (Hardcover - 5 Mar 2007)
Used & New from: £0.01