19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
This review is from: How To Lose Friends & Alienate People (Paperback)
It is very difficult to like Toby Young (on the basis of this book or his frequent appearances as a talking head on TV shows), however this is a very good and entertaining book.
It tells the story of Toby Young's time in New York working for Vanity Fair magazine. Toby Young is an interesting, if not particularly attractive, character. He is a very strange mixture of high brow and base instincts coupled with a rather adolescent sense of humour and an amazing ability to offend both intentionally and unintentionally. He seems very self-aware in reflection but is clearly unable to use this self-awareness in the heat of the moment. At times he seems to suffer from 'Roger Rabbit' syndrome - he must say it because it is funny (at least to him) regardless of the consequences.
Toby Young arrives in New York expecting to the presented with a smorgasbord of attractive women bowled over by his English accent, evident (at least to him) intelligence and his celebrity connections (from his position at Vanity Fair). This does not happen. He expects to have a brilliant career at Vanity Fair but he finds the office politics difficult (because he is not a believer) and his sense of humour and capacity of foot in mouth constantly land him in trouble. He becomes obsessed with celebrities but demonstrates a total lack of ability to talk to them in interviews or social situations - a bit of a problem when working for a celebrity magazine. He finds many aspects of life at Vanity Fair distasteful and cannot keep his mouth shut about them leading him inexorably towards the door.
Toby Young comes from the great British tradition of intellectual scepticism (lapsing into cynicism and negativity) and through this filter he is often startlingly perceptive about Vanity Fair, New York and the USA in general. These are the best bits of the book. The chapter on Harvard is very interesting - the lack of intellectual diversity and curiosity appalled him as did the dogmatism and lack of dissent. He is quite perceptive about sexual and office politics although this is somewhat tainted by some of his personal attitudes. The analysis of the popularity of Jane Austen and the New York marriage market is spot on and hilarious; as is the analysis of the extremely hierarchical nature of US society, the so-called meritocracy, and the appalling behaviour in engenders. He is also very good on the shallowness of Vanity Fair and the fashion world in general. Less impressively he has problems with homophobia or rather an inability to notice that people are gay and then saying something ridiculously inappropriate. He also flirts with sexism although some of this is due to a descent into a rather laddish worldview caused by his inability to cope with Vanity Fair and New York.
This is a rather uneven book sometimes very intelligent and perceptive (most of the analysis), at others infantile and rather silly (most of the stuff actually about Toby Young). However, it is a very entertaining book if you can cope with Young's less attractive qualities.
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Initial post: 20 Jul 2012 17:02:55 BDT
Thank you for your intelligent and insightful review; I listened to Toby Young on R4's 'My Teenage Diary' the other day and became interested in reading this book as a result (having seen the rather bad film version a couple of years ago). I shall see if it's available in the library.
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