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on 29 March 2017
"Devil's Advocate" lucidly encapsulates the misgivings many people have about the way society is heading - the demand for instant gratification fed by advertisers' cynical exploitation: the abnegation of personal responsibility and the consequent blame culture: populism at the expense of probity in politics and the media. He also investigates ways in which the ensuing problems can be tackled.

Although the book was published in 1999, it is still very relevant. The problems are still very much with us.
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on 6 October 2007
Having never listened to the Today programme on the radio, or really watched many of his interviews on TV, I've never heard much of what John Humphrys has had to say. Given how highly he's regarded as a a journalist and interviewer I was intrigued to see what he would have to say.

The book is basically a rant... He tells us all that's wrong in the world, why it was all better in the old day and how to improve it. Despite his suggestions of improvement being fairly minimal (and in my view not a highlight of the book), overall this is a great read - he delivers his thoughts on where things are wrong with a perceptive eye, excellent wit and once you start reading this book it is difficult to put down.

I found myself nodding in agreement with much of the book (especially his views on the developing victim culture) and definitely recommend this as an excellent read.
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on 18 January 2001
I'm not 'deeply conservative' nor 'middle aged' - in fact I'm a 22-year-old left-liberal - but I really enjoyed this book. I think those who claim it's just a reactionary rant are missing the point; John Humphrys is not arguing for a return to the past (as he claims very explicitly) but simply for an alternative future. In this vision of the future we're not sheep following the hype of large corporations nor passive subjects giving in to the blandishments of over-spun politicians - we're proactive 'dissident citizens' who make our own choices and seize our own future. I agree that he asks more questions than he answers, sometimes slipping into pseudo-profundity, and also agree that his constant quips about the attractiveness of the women he mentions can sound quite antediluvian, but he undoubtedly succeeds in putting a rocket up the backsides of those who seek to dumb down the media and destroy our individuality.
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on 24 December 2000
Have you ever had the feeling that life is a gameshow spinning out of control, getting tackier and more degenerate as the stakes get higher. John Humphrys does, and makes the reader aware of the darker forces that are affecting society and the world today. Consumer populism is the driving force of 'modernism' and it is not a force for good. Dumbing down in an effort to chase the ratings is made painfully clear and he argues that if left to run unchecked, consumer populism will rob us of the values that hold any vestige of our society together. THis book serves as a reality check to people that are oblivious to the forces for harm in our increasingly consumption driven world. We must assert our responsibilities as citizens and not enter the meat market as consumers.
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on 14 February 2001
John Humphry's writes a challenging critique of the confused social and political landscape of Britain today. In Section One, Humphry's examines the increasing tendency of people today to blame others for their supposed 'misfortune', leading to an increase in compensation claims for 'personal injury', which he refers to as the 'victim culture'. Alongside this he also looks at how society has become so fearful of taking risks and preoccupied with safety, that many schools have started abandoning field trips for fear of being sued should accident and injury occur. There are also some poignant personal references to the Aberfan disaster in 1966. Humphrys descibes not only the dreadful scenes he witnessed as a reporter, but how the financial generosity shown by the public, who raised £1.75 million for the victims families, was turned against the villagers by the Wilson government and National Coal Board (NCB) who said that the money should be used to clean up the landslide, when it was clearly the NCB's fault. Further excellent analyses looks at how trust has broken down in society. He makes a reference to the chilling and repulsive child abuse 'suspicions' raised against former news colleague Julia Somerville, when a film developer at Boots became 'suspicious' at the number of naked bath time photographs taken of her baby. There are many amusing analogies in this book to things which irritate the author which had me in stitches of laughter. However the subsequent sections of the book go on to criticise the 'consumer culture' which Humphrys sees as all pervading. This preoccupation with 'consumer culture' in my opinion, is one of the weaker points of the book. Humphrys argues that the expansion of 'consumerism' is largely responsible for contemporary social atomisation and political disillusionment. What Humphrys fails to fully comprehend is that it is the failure of politics that has led to the climate today where we are all treated as 'consumers' rather than citizens, and not greater consumer choice. John goes back into personal reminiscences of growing up in post-war Cardiff, where there was a greater sense of community than is apparent today. Again what he only partially pinpoints is that today's breakdown of solidarity and 'community' is more to do with the Tina (There is no alternative) outlook of today's society, the general slowdown in capitalism, and the dissolution of 'right' and 'left' as competing political ideologies which gave the post-war world a semblance of 'coherence'. Humphrys flatters 'cosumerism' by giving it a dynamism it doesn't possess. If the 'consumer' is a limited view of the person, then surely a theory of 'consumerism' would be even more receding. Overall, this is an excellent, beautifully written and challenging book. Humphrys refers to a wide variety of sources to explain his argument, ranging from radical sociologist Frank Furedi to conservative psychologist Oliver James. An original and enticing piece of writing which runs rings around the political guff put forward by todays Labour and Conservative parties. We need more challenging voices today, Humphrys is one of them.
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on 11 December 1999
John Humphrys is a person who has the courage to stake an alternative opinion in the face of fical public opinion. He is therefore a person I am able to admire. The issues that he raises and the opinions he proclaims are easily identifiable to a person of middle age with teenage children. His views on consumerism and advertising are nothing new and yet Western society always accepts the bait hook line and sinker. The way he links the Aberfan, Hillsborough and Dunblane disasters to make an observation of how changes have occurred in our society is particularly poignant. I particularly like the way he gives an explanation by relating an issue to his childhood experiences, and the chapter on "Children" is brilliant. I disagree with a previous review that intimates that the book falls short for not offering outright conclusions. John Humpreys has given the reader the opportunity to argue the issues for his or herself. Highly recommended.
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VINE VOICEon 15 June 2010
This book, written by veteran BBC journalist John Humphrys, presents a series of chapters reflecting on late twentieth century British society. It was written in the very late '90s so is not much out of date and many of Humphrys' views apply to the 2000s. He focuses on a cynical and apathetical culture hidden beneath the caring veneer that the early 1990s promised. Some might see it as a negative book, but that is to miss the point. Humphrys is simply doing what he does best: testing the argument. We need sceptics like this to challenge how we see things and presenting the difference between what we want to believe and what really is. My favourite chapter dealt with the 1990s virus of sentimentality. It has inspired me to pursue an article on the topic. Humphrys makes a clear distinction between the mass hysterical media fuelled surge of sentimentality and the more genuine sympathetic feelings an individual feels for another. It is a bitter pill to swallow for some, but a very necessary observation for us all if we really do wish to become a happier, more tolerant and understanding society.

Summary: Great journalism from a great journalist, Humphreys is the rational person's sensible speaker
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on 30 November 2001
...As per his column in the Sunday Times, not afraid to speak his mind and wage a contrarian view against the rampant political correctness the seems so prevalent in society today. No more so in this book, particulary in a chapter called "Sentimentality" he calls in question the hysteria that surrounded Lady Diana's death as irrational and admits to still leaving him "puzzled"....Utterly compelling and lucidly written. A chance to get into the mind of one of the best journalists of the modern age.
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on 8 July 2010
I was lent a signed copy of this book by a friend and could not put it down, so I am going to buy it and tell all my friends.
Written just over 10 years ago, it is so completely relevant to the socio-economic mess that we find ourselves in today and I found myself nodding as I read 'Devil's Advocate'.
John Humphrys reports on the rise of the "I want it now and will pay for it later" culture, the emergence of populist consumerism in our society, the dumbing down of the media and the general lack of consideration and respect for others that abounds in Britain today.
He doesn't offer solutions. He does what he feels a good journalist should do - present the FACTS.
I challenge anyone who reads it to NOT feel that they want to go out there and try to change things for the better.
As Mr. Humphrys says, "There are no guaranteed outcomes in life.....The only thing we can choose is the route we take."
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on 19 September 1999
When I began reading this book I felt it covered a lot of issues that I already had strong feelings about. I was interested to find out where Humphreys opinions on everything from the public grieving of Diana to large retailers destroying the local shops would lead. Therefore I was quite disappointed to find that it led nowhere. There was no real conclusion to the book and by the end I was glad to finish it. If I had been sat next to the person telling this particular story on a bus I would have got off a few stops early and walked to work.
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