Top critical review
on 14 June 2016
Mr Phinn is literary Marmite. I’m not convinced this book will change anyone’s mind. There are 25 short, themed chapters, and this book is best dipped into a chapter at a time rather than read all the way through.
Yes, it *did* make me laugh out loud, and heartily, but not as often as other books of this genre have done. Examples that I found funny are “Cooking with Poo” (p9, yes, honest, it’s even sold by Amazon, ISBN 0977507076), “Take off top and push up bottom” (p113, instructions on lipstick), “Erected to the memory of John Philips accidentally shot as a mark of affection by his own brother” (p144, on a tombstone).
What it didn’t do was make me laugh out lud as much as other books have done. Some of the examples are too well-worn, hackneyed, and familiar, and there’s a bit too much anecdotal waffle for me: as acknowledged above, other people like that sort of thing.
There are also some avoidable mistakes. On p62, in the chapter on euphemisms, Phinn defines “casualty” as a euphemism for “dead”: no it isn’t; a wartime casualty is anyone not present at roll call, and so includes being sick (eg with the ‘flu), suffering a non-combat related injury (eg tripping over something and banging your head), any level of combat-related injury all the way from a blister caused by marching to a recoverable wound to a serious wound worthy of being discharged from the forces to a fatal wound, being captured, lost, or in military prison. This is a major failing of many books on WW1 that give (deliberately ?) the impression of piles upon piles of dead bodies, whereas a reputable historian will differentiate (as far as the data allows) each category of casualty.
On p63 he, like too many, conflate “shell shock” with PTSD: not so; WW1 contemporary footage of shell-shock sufferers shows them wobbling in manner akin to cerebral palsy, not a symptom of PTSD. Both of these are solvable by finding and asking the appropriate people: well within Mr Phinn’s range of skills.
It’s one of those books that is given at Christmas, read once or twice, gathers dust, and then goes to the charity shop.