Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The English: A Portrait of a People” as Want to Read:
The English: A Portrait of a People
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating

The English: A Portrait of a People

3.52 of 5 stars 3.52  ·  rating details  ·  1,170 ratings  ·  82 reviews
Not so long ago, writes Jeremy Paxman, the English were "polite, unexcitable, reserved, and had hot-water bottles instead of a sex-life". Today the end of empire has killed off the Bulldog Breed - "fearless and philistine, safe in taxis and invaluable in shipwrecks" - and transformed the great public schools. Princess Diana was mourned with the effusive emotionalism of an ...more
Paperback, 308 pages
Published 1999 by Penguin Books (first published January 1st 1998)
more details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The English, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about The English

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 2,241)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  rating details
Didn't finish. Got well pissed off when I reached an historical "fact" that I know is bollocks.

Completely lost interest at that point.
Graham Tapper
A fascinating analysis of the State of the Nation and how we got to be who we are. Written in 1998, pre 9/11, it could be considered already out-of-date. However, the picture that Paxman paints draws mostly upon the past and the changes in attitudes and beliefs and this continues from where he left off as much as it changed in the past.

Paxman does emphasise that he is discussing the English as opposed to the British. However, it is interesting how and when and by whom the terms English and Briti
Paxman, the famous UK television presenter known for his caustic interviewing - and generally coming across as a sneering, aggressive, pedantic and lecturing bully, also has written a few books. While I cannot stand his personality , I did enjoy his book On Royalty - A Very Polite Inquiry into Some Strangely Related Families from a few years ago, where his vain, egotistical and superficial tone was somewhat dampened, perhaps because it was too difficult f ...more
Herman D'Hollander
In my student days the book(let) to read about the English was 'How to be an alien'. In short chapters author George Mikes described the 'typical' character and idiosyncratic behaviour of the English, based upon everyday observations. Funny, entertaining and recognisable, but nothing more really. Paxman's 'The English' is another matter altogether. It is a thoroughly researched work in which most aspects and characteristics of the English people (not the British, as he doesn't fail to point out) ...more
John Grinstead
A surprisingly readable account of the historical events and influences that have contributed to the development of Englishness and the unique character of this island race. Whether you are proud to be English, riddled with guilt about our historical associations with colonialism and the slave trade or are looking for an insight into what makes the English who they are, this makes a pretty good fist of things. Paxman differntiates the national characteristics of the English from the British as a ...more
It's a bit of a mixed bag this, really. I can't say I learned a great deal from it - but then, on the other hand, I'm not sure I expected to. Paxman, in his uniquely deprecating way explains why the English nation is the self-hating mess that it is. Over the course of the book, he interviews the great and the good - from caddish rogue Simon Raven (who once suggested by telegram to his impoverished wife that she eat their baby) to former Prime Minister John Major.

We're treated to several lists of
Reading a book about The English almost feels a bit of a self-indulgence. I feel like I know quite a lot about them already and should be spending my time educating myself about other cultures. Nevertheless, this book - like its author - was opinionated and challenging enough to make me feel I was doing more than just navel-gazing. Like its author too it was occasionally grating, for example for its sneering dismissal of the engaging writing of Bill Bryson, a very different kind of observer of t ...more
Othón León
As a non-English reader, I found this book not only fascinating but widely enlighting for as to understand much more clearly the "why's" of Englishness. Through a recent business trip in England, I found this book in a convenience store and immediately found myself reading the most reveling story of the origins, habits, customs and even vices of this incredible culture that has given so much (in good and bad) to the world. For the first time I could krystal clear comprehend the differences (huge ...more
Elizabeth Oladunni
Overall, I think the book was okay. I didn't really like reading it all. However, there were some parts that were enjoyable. I enjoyed chapters about 'Funny Foreigners' 'The English Empire' 'We happy few' 'Meet the Wife' and 'Old Country, New Clothes' - I had to plod through the rest.

What I really liked about the book was the humour and the vast amount of sources he used to form a judgement on each specific topic. The book felt well-researched and in many ways did accomplish its aim of producing
I can't help but like Jeremy Paxman and I enjoyed his attempt to define Englishness, a much more nebulous concept than we might think. He really doesn't come to any conclusions but the journey is enjoyable and, as a Scot, I always enjoy English attempts to find an identity discrete from Britishness.
Peter Last
Such an accurate description of the English. I can understand why most readers would not rate it too high as the author frequently criticizes his own nation. However, I think it's important for the English to read it as it shows what others think of them, as well as for the non English as it helps them to understand the English. Although he has tried to explain why the English are the way they are, he has not covered all topics, as there are too many that make the English different. I am sure mo ...more
Many reviewers of The English on Goodreads seem to be more concerned with the author, Jeremy Paxman, than with the actual book. I suppose this is one of the hazards of being a well-known TV face. Since I don't live in the UK and don't watch television, I'd barely even heard of him before I picked up this book, so you won't find any prejudice in this review.

As the poet Burns suggested, it is hard to see ourselves as others see us. This is true of nations as of people, and Paxman's struggles to de
Mary Simonsen
In Jeremy Paxman's, The English, A Portrait of a People, the author attempts to establish a national identity for the English, not British, people. With their Celtic roots, he argues that the Welsh and Scots have a strong “national” identity. The Welsh have managed to hold on to their language and their songs while the Scots have their bagpipes, Parliament, legal system, and field their own football teams in World Cup competitions. So what about the English?

Paxman traces the history of the Briti
Reading this in 2012,& not on its first publication in 1998,I was struck by its out-of-date feel;14 years has changed England still more from a cosy place we reminisce about over tea-and-crumpets to an alarmingly uncomfortable distopia of everything that we English have held close to our heats for centuries! England,as a viable country has ceased to exist except in works of fiction.
Paxman is an unmitigated,liberal(and I use the word as an epithet!)snob,condescending and self-regarding.In som
Mark Colenutt
Paxman has his detractors but personally any interviewer that is prepared to repeat the same question 14 times to a politician like Michael Howard, because he tries to avoid it, is worth his weight in democratic gold. If we had more enquiring journalists unwilling to accept the official line, like Vincent Browne vs the ECB, then we probably would have averted the economic mess we're in now. Such outspoken questioning has been conspicuous due to its thrity-year absence on our television screens.

Maciej Matyjas

The book shines in the historical and sociological background that defines English culture, but crumbles towards the end when less dignified behaviour becomes hard to explain.

Some good insights are that an obsession with housing and property makes sense in a country with terrible weather that for a time only gave voting rights to landowners.

The idolatry of the country side harks back to an idealised past that was probably never within the reach of most people (see 'The American Dream').

This boo
Wavered between two or three stars, gave it three in the end because I learned some interesting things and Paxton approached his subject in a way I hadn't thought about before. However, having read manyattempts to define a nation, and the English nation in particular, while doing Michael Neill's amazing Shakespeare paper in 2007, this just didn't measure up -- there's a vast array of literature and research out there that Paxton has entirely failed to come to terms with (I'm not even sure he's a ...more
The sneering tone of the BBC interviewer sits behind the prose, but so does plenty of scholarship. Although first published in 1998, it's a timely read since the right-wing UK Independence Party is in the headlines, adding weight to notion that the English character persists, sometimes affectionate but often ugly. So the sneering tone is not always out of place, since this book is consistently reflective about those non-reflective characteristics of our country that we are now seeing.
Книга представляет собой сборник стереотипов, субъективных оценок, исторических мифов, заблуждений, различных фобий и критики - всего, что касается Англии и ее жителей. И получилось весьма увлекательно. С иронией, юмором и без шовинизма. Подобную книгу можно написать о любом народе, причем описанные в этой книге достоинства и недостатки англичан свойственны и многи другим. Стоит читать для развлечения, делать выводы, и ни в коем случае не вспринимать как абсолютную истину.
J M Kidner
If at first you don't succeed in understanding this book, read and read again.

This is a "solid" read. The book is a study in complexity. I have had to read and re-read it to grasp the subject matter although brighter people than me may not need to do so. Fascinating, absorbing food for thought. Despite this, Paxman has a light touch.
Try it. Stretch a bit.
A good read. Paxman's book is well researched, and packed with interesting points and ideas. He covers our views of foreigners, the anachronistic view of a bucolic England, he rubbishes our self-effacing view that we are doomed as a nation. He describes the traditional Englishman and Englishwoman, and although it informs us of our past, does not define our present states. He points out that we have given a lot to the world, and continue to do so. Yet we still have a defeatist attitude, thinking ...more
Alan Williams
I found the first chapters rather exciting and challenging. Written over 15 years ago Paxman is surprisingly prescient of the growth of Scottish nationalism and the almost inevitable drift towards independence. But as the book continued it lost it's earlier vigour and became boring. So lots of padding with nothing new to offer delivered in an arrogant style
Picked this book up during our recent trip to Canada (sorry Plato's Republic: bumped again...). Couldn't resist the figure of John Bull on the front, gorging himself on a foreign navy. Paxman is a television newsman and writes in an engaging style: "Once upon a time the English knew who they were... (they were) polite, unexcitable, reserved and had hot-water bottles instead of a sex life..." Paxman looks at the English through a stringent yet often affectionate lens and is particularly insightfu ...more
Mark Maguire
This was an enjoyable and engaging read which charted the rise and fall or England and "Englishness" as both a State and a mindset.

The book also considers the political invention of Britain and the concept of being "British", and how these ideological concepts are employed by those whom seek to re-invigorate echoes of a questionable past for the sake of morally guiding the ascendant generation; or seeking to generalise / explain away deviations from the supposed norm of England and Englishness.
Interesting to read about myself in the third person. All the more so, since I am now a Canadian citizen and can look upon the English from outside.
Paxman makes a good stab at describing The English and differentiating them from The British, but I found it a bit spotty, with some sections definitely dragging and others regurgitating threadbare stereotypes. It skates over the regional differences within England, which I think would be rich material.

Amusing enough though - worth the $2 I got it fo
Beatriz Canas Mendes
Holy crap, this book is so loooong (maybe I am exaggerating, but that's how I felt it)! Fortunately, it deserves the effort. Sometimes it is a bit boring, specially if you don't understand some words or cultural jokes and comparisons, but in general it is a pretty good-humoured caricature of the English people. As a portuguese culture student, I enjoyed it very much, because of the precise description it gives us about the English and England, never forgetting to mention the funny things about t ...more
These are the thoughts that Jeremy had. They were watered and they were fed. They grew very big (big enough for a book) in his head. This is the book that Jeremy wrote with his thoughts big and strong. For Jeremy had fed them so they could tackle any other thoughts that thought to come along.

So if you agree with Paxman, you will find support for your side of the argument within this book. You will find a whole lot of it, actually. Should you want to know the other side of the story this may not
Gary Cann
Thought-provoking and thoroughly enjoyable. A positive approach to a subject that can produce so many negative responses.
David Carradice
Written in 1998 it is as relevant today and with almost 'predictive text' qualities given the passing years and a second reading.
I couldn't finish this book. It is very well written with well thought out arguments. However I found it patronising in tone and presumptive of many historical facts which are in dispute. Mr Paxman comes from the classically educated view that the Romans civilised the world, which is now in dispute. I can appreciate it is a good book and my partner thought it was excellent, but I am afraid I grew angry with the tone and presumptions so couldn't finish it. I would recommend it to others however. ...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 74 75 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • Letter from America, 1946-2004
  • A History Of Modern Britain
  • White Heat: A History of Britain in the Swinging Sixties
  • Restoration London: Everyday Life in the 1660s
  • Empire: How Britain Made The Modern World
  • Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour
  • Farewell The Trumpets: An Imperial Retreat
  • The Battle for the Falklands
  • Adventures on the High Teas: In Search of Middle England
  • When The Lights Went Out Britain In The Seventies
  • The Victorians
  • Lost For Words
  • The Lore of the Land: A Guide to England's Legends, from Spring-Heeled Jack to the Witches of Warboys
  • Do Not Pass Go
  • Ornamentalism: How the British Saw Their Empire
  • William Pitt the Younger
  • The English Civil War: A People's History
  • The Last Days of Hitler
Jeremy Dickson Paxman is a British journalist, author and television presenter. He has worked for the BBC since 1977. He is noted for a forthright and abrasive interviewing style, particularly when interrogating politicians. His regular appearances on the BBC2's Newsnight programme have been criticised as aggressive, intimidating, condescending and irreverent, and applauded as tough and incisive.
More about Jeremy Paxman...
Empire: What Ruling the World Did to the British On Royalty: A Very Polite Inquiry into Some Strangely Related Families Political Animal: An Anatomy Great Britain's Great War The Victorians

Share This Book

No trivia or quizzes yet. Add some now »