Top critical review
3 people found this helpful
on 11 November 2013
I'm a lower middle class man with a reasonable education, born in the 1950's and a bit of a pedantic geek, so I had high hopes for this book which, I thought, would be akin to an up market QI. I was wrong! I didn't hate this book, I just disliked it on several levels.
Firstly, there is no real structure other than an arbitrary alphabetic listing. This is nothing more than a written version of 'Grumpy Old Men' but devoid of any of the charm or humour of the TV version. The whole book is just a series of arbitrary lists, in one form or another, and in one case, the item is just a list of 100 things that don't exist in today's world. While a few of these pique nostalgic interest, it becomes very boring very quickly. I never enjoy reading down long lists.
Secondly, who is this book aimed at? Me, I assume as most of the references will be meaningless to anyone under the age of about 50. Even I (aged 58) was left thinking "so what?" at the end of most items. Of course, I did recognise lots of products from my past but it invoked in me a feeling of "oh yeah" at best.
One of my biggest gripes is the writing style. Michael Bywater is a well educated, experienced, journalist and, as such, he has an expanded vocabulary and erudition beyond the norm. But, my God, doesn't he like to ram that down the reader's throat? I'm a big fan of the novels of Allan Mallinson and, in most of his books, I encounter the occasional word that I haven't come across before. As I have the pedant' s passion for English, I look it up and, in every case, find that it is exactly the best term to use within the context of the sentence. I feel grateful to Mr Mallinson for broadening my vocabulary; I do not feel condescended or demeaned. Not so with Mr Bywater. Here, every item is awkwardly phrased to allow Mr B to use an obscure or esoteric word with a huge sense of "see, I know that word and you didn't!". It is linguistic triumphalist bullying at its worst and left me thinking "smart a**e" rather than "what a clever man" . Most of the items seem to be little more than a thin excuse to allow Mr Bywater to 'go off on one' and rant incoherently. The odd example of this might be amusing, especially in, say, a weekly newspaper column, but it soon becomes annoyingly tiresome here.
My final gripe is only partly to do with the author and is, at least in part, a result of my poor choice in buying this in Kindle format. My Kindle showed me to be less than 60% through when I reached the end. That's because Mr B has taken the current fad for appending footnotes to much of his writing to the extreme. There are footnotes in just about every item and not just one footnote per item either. Oh no, Mr B doesn't constrain himself so; in some items there are up to a dozen footnotes in just that one item. For some items, there is more written in the footnotes than in the item itself. Now, this is just sloppy and pretentious writing as, clearly, much of what is appended in the footnote should have formed part of the item although, curiously, many of the footnotes are more interesting than the item to which they pertain. My big problem was that, in paper format, these footnotes would have appeared close to each item, allowing them to be read contemperaniously but navigating this in Kindle is more difficult. I must admit that the index at the end works quite well, so it's not all bad.
So would I recommend this book to you? No. It is self important, pretentious, rambling drivel that becomes tedious and boring almost before the end of the first page. I have only awarded a second star to recognise the depth of research that seems to have gone into it. There is a series of books from the folk who produce the QI TV programme, all of which are much better than this (there are some good maths based ones too) and, for humorous middle aged ranting, some of Jerremy Clarkson 's short articles take some beating. In fact, there's lots of stuff out there far better than this. I've had more fun writing this review than I had reading the book! So don't waste your money.