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on 24 May 2014
The book started off quite well, with quite good comment on education, and I had high expectations. However, the author went on to express his gripes about all sorts of issues that were not obviously related to each other, spanning Princess Diana’s death, the judicial system, Madeline McCann, and economic aid to developing countries. The author’s aim was somewhat like a blunderbuss, lacking a clear target. A more specific focus might have inspired confidence that the author was qualified to comment on a topic. As things stand, he might as well have said "What's the world coming to?"
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on 13 June 2016
More great insights and humour
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on 12 July 2014
Poorly evidenced writing that's nothing more than angry opinion - there are very few things that rile me as much as a book presenting as fact assertions that I can refute without the aid of Google. There's a fascinating, well-researched polemic to be written on this subject, but this isn't it.
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on 16 September 2010
Once again Dalrymple dispels the foetid stench of political correctness like a breath of fresh air. Dalrymple's misanthropy is a plea for human dignity in these most degraded of times. Revolting public displays of emotion by sanctimonious attention seekers, Maddy Mcgann wristbands advertising the wearer's concern for Maddy and the ever grotesque Tony Blair are just a few of the topics covered.
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on 25 November 2016
An interesting insight to the perception of the public's response to sentimentality and it's consequences.
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on 9 July 2013
You may or may not end up agreeing with all of his views, but Dalrymple opens a window on a side of life in Britain that few readers will have seen. He brings to light the perverse incentives and unintended consequences of a generation of social policy. Though the author's direct experience of literally thousands of conversations is tremendously valuable, his case would be bolstered by a few more hard statistics and figures. At times, he pushes his political points a bit hard, even lapsing into logical fallacies - for example implying that because all criminals have tattoos, all tattooed people must be criminals. Despite those few flaws, there is a lot of thought-provoking insight in this book.
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on 20 July 2014
A number of passages of lucidity and insight if not originality; otherwise a devastating, occasionally hilarious & often grotesque self-parody.
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on 11 February 2013
Though considered a die-hard liberal when I lived in the US (where few can actually explain exactly what 'Liberal' really means) I always enjoy reading Dalrymple - his disdain for humbug and nonsense and political correctness is refreshing and he leaves in his wake a landscape strewn with decapitated sacred cows. I only gave the book four stars because I haven't quite finished it and there were a few typos - but I have had some strange looks in my local for literally laughing out loud.
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on 4 October 2010
I read a review on this book in the Guardian Newspaper. Being someone who is becoming a grumpy middle-aged man - it seemed quite interesting. The book arrived quickly with no fuss - the price was much better than quoted elsewhere and the packaging was all in order. I am about 3/4 the way through and even though I don't sgree with all of it - an amazing amount makes sense to me and how 'modern' day life is and has become. Some of it is very obvious but I find over-written - some I found a bit difficult to read amidst the very colourful literature. Overall - good food for thought in my opinion.
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on 15 January 2013
Spoilt Rotten: the toxic cult of sentimentality Theodore Dalrymple

Dalrymple draws out his thesis over many years, but surely the apotheosis is reached (and he describes it towards the end of the book) in the horridly manipulative yet then swelling mawkish public response to the death of Diana Princess of Wales. How so many otherwise ordinary members of the public could become lemming-like depositors of soon-to-rot bunches of flowers outside the home of someone they had never met passes rational understanding. Sentimentality indeed. And that master of sentiment and insincerity Tony Blair exploits the event oh so cleverly, drowning the then leader of the opposition, William Hague, in his wake.

Some interesting points are made about education, especially the (again Blair-inspired) dictum that 50% of the UK population must now go to university. That despite the sad truth that many of those so privileged can hardly read or write properly, thanks to the disastrous failure of state education to that point: eleven years imprisoned and fed soppy gruel. Then it only takes a renaming process worthy of a banana republic to declare that all technical colleges, polytechnics, and sometimes even further education institutes are henceforth to be called universities. Dalrymple hits the nail on the head here. An especially poignant note is struck with devastating simplicity in the story of Julius Nyerere's Tanzania: the aim of education during the colonial era had been to equip the aspirant with the chance of entering the civil service. So that's what people aspired to afterwards. Unfortunately the result was a bloated, corrupt bureaucracy and starving peasants whose coffee crops were now effectively un-tradeable. So, the lesson is that education policy must be designed, not in the abstract, but to serve the needs of the population at the time.

In a sentimental Weltanschauung, good is contrasted with bad as black and white. We know from our own lives that good and bad are relative terms. We live in a world of spectra: from poor to rich, from countryside to town, from ugly to beautiful, from nasty to nice, from dependant to self-reliant, and so forth, Yet the sentimentality idea throws this knowledge away. We are either one thing or the other. Opinions expressed in moderate terms are cast by the raucous clamour by almost illiterate commentators into stark categories, to be either lauded or condemned with extreme expressions of love or hate. So we end up defiling language. Can anyone remember what fantastic once meant? Or unbelievable? Or amazing? How sad.

Dalrymple casts a harsh light on the family impact statement, and the criminal justice system's required response to it. It turns out the whole thing is an exercise in hypocritical mendacity, a bromide for the victim, to be ignored by the judiciary. I have an anecdote along similar lines. I was asked to support the defendant in a drug case in prison. Some time ago drug offences (and other offences) by inmates were handled by the prison governors: rough justice, but at least economical. Now, that is disallowed. A district judge has to rule on a case and hand down the sentence. The prisoner is able to call friends in aid. So it was in the case I am describing. I sat through several hearings for minor drug offences. The my man was brought in, shame-faced. The charge was put and he admitted guilt. I made my supportive speech. The district judge said a few words and then awarded my man two days extra detention. All the other prisoners on similar charges were dealt exactly the same two days extra, even though no-one had spoken up in their favour. A ridiculous waste of time.

Denominators are important, says Dalrymple. How right. He goes too far, I think, in one or two examples, but in general he's spot on. We hear of £xx millions being spent or saved, and are led to think that's lot of money. We should always relate that quantity to a relevant denominator. Suppose £30 million is to be added to the tax bill. What a lot of money? Not really: it's only 50p per head of population, or if you prefer, £1.00 per member of the workforce. What about £30 million annually? Then that's 2p a week each. You can't even buy a gumdrop, let alone a lottery ticket for that.

On the hospital front, we are reminded of the need to keep a professional distance from the patient. Thus it should be `Mrs Smith' rather than `Betty' for the woman in the third bed on the left. Quite right--unless, I would say, Mrs Smith says she would prefer to be called Betty. Dalrymple regrets the supervening of managerial control over the decisions of clinical staff: form filling to conform with directives, at the expense of good sound clinical judgement. Dalrymple makes the point with force that doctors will have spent up to thirty years reaching the apogee of their profession, whereas managers... However, I was a little confused when Dalrymple made statements vindicating the two experts Roy Meadow and David Southall. Roy Meadow had been instrumental in the conviction of Sally Clark, whose two young children had died. Sally Clark was convicted of murder and served three years in prison before her sentence was quashed. I am inclined to think that Meadow was (to say the least) arrogant in his peremptory judgements about mothers caring for their children.

Dalrymple dwells a lot on the case of Stephen Lawrence. One aspect of that chimes with a view I have held for some time: the foolishness (I would say) in differentiating crimes according as they are racially motivated or not. It seems to me that if I and five friends stab someone at a bus stop and he then stumbles and dies, I am his murderer. It matters not whether he is BME [Get with it: Black and Minority Ethnic].

Dalrymple sees bullying in the behaviour of bureaucrats and others who have the power to treat people necessarily in a supplicant position as fair game for power plays. He remembers two incidents clearly still raw in his memory, when he asked social services for special help in cases where a patient of his was in extreme danger. I can relate well to that. One must never be cowed by the bureaucrats if one can possibly manage it.

We are on a slippery slope. Or rather there we are on several slippery slopes at once, and seem to have even lost track of which slippery slope we are on. Language becomes ruder. Argument gives way to insult. Just look at newspaper message boards: full of invective.

There's a lovely aphorism concerning Tony Blair. He's "authentically bogus". As another amusement: I learnt at least two new things (for me); the meaning of Gestalt-shift, and of encomia. Dalrymple does like unfamiliar words and phrases.

This book has confirmed many of my instinctive thoughts about the way we are now, has made me realise there is much further I ought to go in standing up against the dreadful sentimental agenda, and has taught me things I had not previously worked out for myself or just did not know. A salutary read.

JND 15 January 2013
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