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The English: A Portrait of a People
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The English: A Portrait of a People

3.55  ·  Rating Details ·  1,612 Ratings  ·  106 Reviews
In The English Jeremy Paxman sets out to find about the English. Not the British overall, not the Scots, not the Irish or Welsh, but the English. Why do they seem so unsure of who they are? Jeremy Paxman is to many the embodiment of Englishness yet even he is sometimes forced to ask: who or what exactly are the English? And in setting about addressing this most vexing of q ...more
Paperback, 308 pages
Published 1999 by Penguin Books (first published January 1st 1998)
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Didn't finish. Got well pissed off when I reached an historical "fact" that I know is bollocks.

Completely lost interest at that point.
Robert C.
Apr 28, 2015 Robert C. rated it liked it
Thankfully, I don't know Jeremy personally (yes, I know this is difficult for my North American readers to understand being as both Jeremy and I both live in 'London'!) so that means I don't have to mince round his feelings like an insomniac's husband going for a midnight pee.

All I really know about Jeremy is that he's on the radio and he interviews people (although if you're reading this in the year 2025 this may not still be true).

This book that Jeremy wrote comes over like the weather in Engl
Graham Tapper
Feb 06, 2012 Graham Tapper rated it it was amazing
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 Written in 1998, pre 9/11, it could be considered already out-of-date.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
Sep 12, 2009 Chris rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Jack Strange
Jan 23, 2017 Jack Strange rated it it was amazing
Jeremy Paxman has a quite wonderful way with words and puts his skills to good effect in this wonderful portrayal of the english. It's an ambitious aim, but he pulls it off.

I am myself english, or count myself english, and i recognise many of my traits in his portrait. I wonder whether other english readers will feel the same way; and whether those who are not english, but have english friends, will recognise the traits of their english friends in this book?

If you are english, or an anglophile,
Dec 10, 2013 Nick rated it really liked it
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
Herman D'Hollander
Sep 12, 2014 Herman D'Hollander rated it really liked it
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
Othón León
Nov 25, 2012 Othón León rated it it was amazing
Shelves: current-affairs
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
Nov 06, 2008 Michael rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
John Grinstead
Jul 26, 2011 John Grinstead rated it liked it
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
Nick Davies
Jan 13, 2016 Nick Davies rated it liked it
Shelves: 2015
In reading this, I was drawn to compare it with 'Watching the English' by Kate Fox (naturally, as Fox's book does make a lot of reference to this book) though it is not easy to say which I preferred.

Paxman aims to explore and define what makes the English like they are. This is a much more well-researched book, more reliant on historical context than softer modern sociology, a bit heavier and not as enjoyable to read as Fox's book on the same subject. I did find it very interesting, in places, h
Aug 24, 2012 Fiona rated it liked it
Shelves: miscellaneous
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.
Jul 08, 2015 Joanna rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I never thought I'd have to write book reports in grad school, but here we are once again. This book was fine, not a typical policy book so that was a nice change of pace. A bit long-winded but at times funny and poignant. Made me think a lot about the legacy of the English on Americans actually.
Ralf Grabuschnig
May 19, 2017 Ralf Grabuschnig rated it liked it
This book is a bit of a mixed bag to me. I expected some, at least, half-scientific approach to English culture and history. What Paxman does, however, is looking at certain aspects of "typical" English behaviour and draw rather generalising conclusions.

At the same time, it was not a bad read. I don't feel like I learned a lot but the book did make me think. Some of the ideas put forward by Paxman are worth contemplating, even though his evidence is patchy at best.

Basically what I'm saying is
Oct 05, 2016 Sandi rated it it was amazing
I always enjoy the literate and witty Jeremy Paxman, and I enjoyed this book (tho' not as much as he book on the royals.

He examines what it is to be English. Not British, but English, and why the English have a far less distinctive sense of self than do the Irish, Scots, and Welsh.

I do wish that in his chapter on the Anglican (official) Church he had mentioned that for centuries non-Anglicans--including other Protestant groups, Catholics, Jews, agnostics and other "Dissenters" were taxed to supp
Sarah Clement
Jun 12, 2016 Sarah Clement rated it really liked it
If you know Paxman and what he's all about, then this book is exactly what you'd expect: it's England according to Paxman, and he hates everything. But in a weird sort of way, it ends up being less biased than other books I've read on the topics because Paxman's disdain for practically everything means that he explores many different dimensions of 'Englishness' from many different angles. This is not the book for English people to read if they want to pat themselves on the back and re-affirm the ...more
Sep 28, 2013 Palmyrah rated it liked it
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
Aug 13, 2012 Mary Simonsen rated it liked it
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
May 21, 2011 Maciej rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

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
Sep 14, 2012 Andrew rated it it was ok
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
Elizabeth Oladunni
Jun 05, 2014 Elizabeth Oladunni rated it it was ok
Shelves: history
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
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 many attempts 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 ...more
Mark Colenutt
Jul 04, 2013 Mark Colenutt rated it it was amazing
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.

Feb 20, 2012 Si rated it really liked it
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
Peter Last
Feb 25, 2015 Peter Last rated it really liked it
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
Mark Maguire
Mar 06, 2013 Mark Maguire rated it really liked it
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.
Mar 29, 2009 Michael rated it liked it
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
Aug 01, 2014 Karli rated it really liked it
Shelves: brit-lit
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
Oct 26, 2014 Kevin rated it liked it
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
Feb 13, 2014 Beatriz Canas Mendes rated it really liked it
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
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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.
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