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3.9 out of 5 stars
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3.9 out of 5 stars
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on 26 September 2010
I'm a fan of Bill Bryson and have his books (and audio books) in abundance, and always take at least one on holiday with me or if I'm away for a weekend.
So I bought this on the day it appeared, having seen his name on the cover. I recognised the style of illustration, the typeface, and therefore gladly took the plunge BUT as has been pointed out he did not write this. His contribution is the intro, and then apparently some 'editing'. So what you get is a list of people who claim the title 'celebrity' who tell us about their favourite bits of the country, their memories of childhood, or whatever pops into their acclaimed celebrity minds. Do I care what Trisha and the rest think about anything? No I don't. This book was dropped off at the charity shop very quickly and hopefully the British Heart Foundation will benefit from it far more than I did.

Initially I read the waffle contributed by some of the celebs (specifically, those people who don't annoy me) and then I tried some of the jottings by people who I've never heard of, and then on principle alone (having paid good money for this) I picked my way through those efforts written by people who ordinarily I couldn't care less about. And that's that, each one lasts a page or two and are all pretty much worthless unless you happen to be enamoured with the celebrity culture which we currently live in.

This product should not be emphasising Bill Bryson's name, and the cover art should not have been designed and illustrated in the style of all his other books. It's misleading, because it has very little to do with him. This sort of book is not for me. Some like it, I don't. I'll examine in detail the next book bearing his name before potentially wasting money on it!
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on 24 June 2010
I was disappointed when I received this book.
Mainly because it was not written by Bill Bryson, but it was articles written by other people and only edited by him,which was not made clear in any publicity.
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on 7 April 2010
I just finished my copy of Icons of England and I have to admit my pleasant surprise. Not just a rehash of traditional `English' countryside imagery, the book is full of witty and touching anecdotes from all over the country, including the cities.

Although the list of celebrity contributors was no great draw to me, the fact that many are professional writers or journalists has resulted in a much better read then books that traditionally sell because of the `celeb' factor.

As a cricket fan, I would compare reading this book, to listening to Test Match Special: relaxing, cosy, often witty and a comfort in times of trial.
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on 19 September 2010
I agree with a previous comment that it's not very clear this book isn't actually written by Bill Bryson. It was an OK read, but I was expecting so much more. My favourite entry was that written by the member of the public - I wish there had been a few more of these - and much more by Bill Bryson himself.
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on 7 April 2010
Having just finished a copy of Icons of England it has really got me thinking about the English countryside and some of the everyday things that I cherish which I probably take for granted. I enjoyed many of the chapters with my favourites being Sister Wendy Becket on Churchyards, Floella Benjamin on the weather, Adrian Chiles on the Clent Hills and of course Bill Bryson on English Icons. I have made it a personal mission to visit some of the places described in the book and have already glimpsed Balcombe Viaduct (Jon Snow's Icon) and visited the beach at West Wittering (Jonathan Dimbleby).

I'd certainly recommend for reading on a lazy summer afternoon somewhere in the English countryside.
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VINE VOICEon 12 July 2010
Quite a nostalgic read for those of us above a certain age. I think the book relies heavily on Bill Bryson's name being in bold on the front cover when his contribution is limited to an introduction. Still an enjoyable read.
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on 5 February 2009
This is a beautiful book which I would recommend to anyone wanting to cherish the lovelier bits of England before they all vanish. Wonderful photography and excellent essays accompanying the chosen bits of Britain. Some unusual choices and almost poetic descriptions of our lovely country and more. Also sold in a good cause which is a good enough reason to treat yourself to it without delay.
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on 25 November 2010
Read this on a flight from England to Canada. Had hoped to have a good read that would have me fondly thinking of England, but most of the contributions were too short....and uninteresting.
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on 20 June 2010
I have to admit I bought this book on the strength of Tony Robinson's piece on his "icon", archaeologist Mick Aston. My icon too, I think. It's quite an interesting collection though and as none of the contributions stretches beyond a few pages even those that drag don't drag for long.

Some people write about an aspect of England as a whole: the light, weather, clouds; while others focus on specific locations which resonate for them. Inevitably these are often places associated with childhood and much of the writing is shrouded with that mix of self-pity and self-congratulation which is typical of nostalgia. Some of it is also a little too self-consciously poetic.

There is also a deeper and more disturbing lack of realism about England's past and future which can be seen in the explaining away of the current housing crisis and the suggestions that the changes in British farming which followed WW2 were unnecessary. More than that, the concentration on rural England and the assertion that this is the real England seem a bit ridiculous when you consider this is a country where 9 out of every 10 people live in urban areas.

The best pieces are excellent though. People surprise you with their love for the most improbable things. Or just remind you that some things never lose their marvel, no matter how much we travel and see. I particularly liked the essay about Land's End; it made me want to drop everything and rush off there!
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VINE VOICEon 12 July 2012
I didn't read the front cover properly and presumed this book was actually written by Bryson, whereas it is in fact edited by him. Not a problem if that's what you're expecting, but had I paid for this (it was a library book) I would have been disappointed, as others reviewing here have been.

The book is set out into approximately two page 'chapters' where each contributor(Eric Clapton, Jo Brand, Jonathon Dimbleby, Gabby Logan, Kevin Spacey etc.) describes something that endears them to England. Some I found interesting or emotive and others just bland. I like facts and history so the chapters I enjoyed the most were the informative writings about Mary Anning the 19th century fossil hunter, Hadrian's Wall and Britain being blessed with ancient trees (with "more 500-year-old trees than France and Germany combined" in Richmond Park alone!)

Although you can 'look inside' before buying on Amazon, the chapter titles don't always give much clue as to the content. Subjects include: urban childhoods; hares; cricket; family butchers; The Green Man; The Norfolk Broads and Pub signs (that comforting "rectangle, swinging free in wind or rain...where you will find the comforts of your local town or village" no matter how far from home you are.)

Bryson does contribute in his indomitably observational style to the book at the beginning, but it would have been more fun had he contributed more. No book about Britain would be complete without a mention of the weather though, in this case by Floella Benjamin who arriving from Trinidad in 1960 had never experienced the same extent of season changes and coldness! She encapsulates about the climate, what surely most of us feel about 'Blighty' in general. It's home, and we love and miss it when we're away for any length of time...even the coldness! ;-)

Incidentally all royalties from the book go to The Campaign to Protect Rural England.
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