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The Kingdom by the Sea

3.74  ·  Rating Details ·  3,090 Ratings  ·  146 Reviews
It was 1982, the summer of the Falkland Islands War, and the birth of the royal heir, Prince William--and the ideal time, Theroux found, to surprise the British into talking about themselves. The result is a candid, funny, perceptive, and opinionated travelogue of his journey and his findings.
Mass Market Paperback, 361 pages
Published October 1st 1995 by Penguin (first published 1983)
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(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Mar 10, 2008 Andrew rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: travelers, walkers, anglophiles, appreciators of florid description
Recommended to Andrew by: Bill Bryson, Rick Steves
Shelves: travel
I struggled to get through this one. Theroux came highly recommended by other travel writers, Bill Bryson and Rick Steves, so I was very disappointed. As the quotes below reveal, Paul Theroux has a gift for the beautiful turn-of-phrase and is occasionally insightful. However, far too much of "The Kingdom by the Sea" was filled with boring and highly repetitive material. I'll boil this down to two key gripes.

1. Theroux's book follows him on trip around the British coastline. He makes a commitment
Aug 21, 2012 martin rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
It's always initially difficult to see one's country through the eyes of a foreigner and this was my first attempt. Sadly, I chose badly as this is a book where I kept on wondering why he bothered to complete what seemed to be even for him a thankless and depressing endeavour.

To misuse a title from another book, this Beautiful Room is Empty. The use of language is often impressive and thought-provoking but language is like a picture frame - no matter how wonderful, it can not mask a weak paintin
Jun 09, 2011 Bruce rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I’ve never before read anything by Paul Theroux. And I’ve never before read anything quite like this book. After eleven years of living in London, and having seen little of the rest of Great Britain, Theroux decided to spend about three months traveling - by foot, by train, by bus if necessary - around the coast of the island and Northern Ireland. Apparently not a person to travel laden with romantic illusions, he is clear-eyed and inquisitive, intent on seeing the real nature of the country and ...more
Mar 06, 2011 Carrie rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Theroux manages to make Britain seem like the most dismal country on the planet. While he was traveling during the 80s, I can definitely say that some of the places he described either aren't that way now, or weren't given a fair shake. And he seems to seek out the miserable, spending mere paragraphs on places like Edinburgh. He deliberately avoids castles and anything most travelers would visit. While I understand not wanting to make the whole book a tour of castles and museums, the things he d ...more
Jan 07, 2012 Caleb rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm trying to figure why I like Paul Theroux travelogues quite so much. The guy is bluntly a dick at times and craps on places for no apparent reason. Yet I found his writing insightful, his adventures fascinating, and his conclusions illuminating. Here, he traveled clockwise around the coast of the UK, covering England, Wales, then Northern Ireland, then back for Scotland and the rest of England. He did this in the summer of 1982, as the Falkland Wars raged, Prince William was born, and England ...more
Paul Theroux writes about his travels around the coast of Britain. This book is highly regarded but I really didn't feel it.

The book could be summarised quite easily. Theroux gets off a train and looks for a nice place to stay. He is the only guest and the owners tell him it will be busy when the tourist season starts. The room is horrible and the owners inhospitable, he leaves as soon as he possibly can. The town is deserted and the few things that are open are unimpressive. He picks up his bag
Dec 31, 2010 Jim rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: travel
One of my all time favourite travel books, Theroux takes his jaded eyes around the coast of Thatcher's Britain at the time of the Falklands conflict. His favourite spot is the remotest corner of Scotland where the sight of sheep stranded on a deserted beach sandbank as the tide comes in,leaving them to drown, warms the cockles of his heart. If only those sheep had been Aberdonians (his least favourite town). Theroux concludes more or less that there's not a lot to like in Britain, really, which ...more
Bob Draben
Paul Theroux wrote this book after living in England for several years. To prepare for the book, he decided to follow the coastline around Britain traveling clockwise, and to include Norther Ireland. He made this trip in 1982, traveling by foot, bus, and train.

His goal was to tell his readers what the British are really like. He has a real gift for getting people to talk to him and includes lots of quotations from his many conversation with British people. The account seems an honest one. At tim
Mike Ratliff
Sep 19, 2016 Mike Ratliff rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
My mother-in-law, Rose Virgo, was a great reader, and no doubt felt some embarrassment at having a relation ignorant of such great writers such as Theroux. Consequently, the first birthday after my marriage, she gifted me this wonderful travel book. For years thereafter, one after another, I received travel books by Theroux until, having exhausted them, she proceeded to introduce me to other great travel writers. This, certainly, was one of the most wonderful gifts of my life, and remains a favo ...more
Apr 13, 2014 Adobe rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
God, I hated this. I wanted to give up when I was halfway through, but some sick sense of perseverance compelled me to finish it.

I picked this up originally because I rather like travelogues; I didn't realize that Theroux is famous for the grim, bitter unhappiness of his travel writing (Theroux's theory is that "a lot of travel is misery and delay").

The problem is that Theroux never manages to make this misery and delay interesting. It's just tedious -- a hundred pages in, and you may be wonde
Jan 09, 2008 Donna rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir, travel
I enjoyed Theroux’s journey around the coastal perimeter of Great Britain, even though the prose became very repetitive and droning at times. He is particularly adept at characterizing the myriad of interesting people that he encountered as he walked, took the train, jumped on buses, or hitchhiked his way through a dazzling array of tiny hamlets, picturesque villages, and dreary towns. He seems to have a rather bleak view of most of the places he visited. I took this with a large grain of salt ( ...more
Nov 28, 2013 Judy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book had a particular resonance for me. Firstly, because I find reading Paul Theroux's travel writing is like breathing rarefied air. And secondly, because having lived and travelled fairly extensively in the United Kingdom for just seven years I am no less fascinated with the place and people than the day I arrived.

The book seems to highlight the fact that a newcommer is not likely ever to get to understand the people very well, but could possibly add to one's catalogue of the variety of
Mar 06, 2015 Erwin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: us-problems
Interesting to read if only to put current US and European problems in perspective. This was written in 1982 during the British invasion of the Falkland Islands... The infrastructure of the UK had been falling apart since the 1950's and by the time of Theroux's 1982 journey the decay, unemployment and biker gangs were the result.

English people of a certain class often said things like this, taking a satisfaction in the certainty of death, because dying was a way of avoiding the indignity of what
The concept is good: walking and taking transit around the coast of Britain, while examining the people, culture and general society throughout. But Theroux seems to have such a negative and cynical outlook on what he sees that you come away thinking Britain is an incredibly depressing place.

Which it is not! I've been to Northern England and stayed in two of the towns that Theroux passes through, and the country is not nearly as dirty and depressing as he makes it out to be.

The biggest frustrat
Apr 03, 2013 Parvathy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Theroux is a delight. Traveling around the coast of England in the '80s... during the Falklands war, the railway strike, Thatcherite depression...Theroux observes an England slowly becoming obsolete. Curmudgeonly and surly he can be, but never uninteresting. His take-down of the English brings a smile every time... But his more generous observations about the Welsh, Scots and the Irish are equally fun. The book feels a bit dated, true. But as a travelogue, truly one of the best I have read.
Dec 11, 2009 Nancy rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I just had to stop in the middle. I couldn't bear to read any more putdowns and sad commentary on the British. This author has some serious issues going on that are causing him to have such a negative take on those around him and life in general.

Too bad because he does a good job of the research into the places he goes, but his relationships with the people he observes are so reflective of his own emotional state, it sad. I'm going to have to hang it up on any more of his books.
Aug 14, 2016 Michael rated it it was ok
Such mixed emotions.

The writing is undeniably gorgeous at times - but those times are relatively few.

The people he meets can be quirky, their brief conversations can be revealing - but they can also often be totally trivial and not worth mentioning.

He seems to want to make a political statement about the Falklands War, but never bother actually making it. He assumes his readers catch his drift and agree with it.

Although he seems to pride himself on his progressive views, he has a kind of creepy
Random thoughts on The Kingdom by the Sea by Paul Theroux which was chosen primarily to fulfill "Non-Fiction &/or Travel" requirements for a few challenges--and because I'd heard about Theroux and his books before and thought it might be interesting:

Just starting out...I'm wondering why Theroux bothered to do a walking (well, mostly walking, but sometimes taking a train) tour of Britain and then write about it. He doesn't really seem enamored with England. He doesn't really seem to be enjoyi
Dec 31, 2007 Julie rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I was feeling pretty ok about the whole book until I read this line on page 297: "I seldom had a good meal in my traveling, not that it mattered much: food was one of the dullest subjects."

It was a slap in the face. A kick in the stomach. A stab in the back.

I think I am through with you, Paul Theroux.
Sep 08, 2014 Stephen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: travel
Just finished a re-read. It held up well. Theroux walked all the way around the coastline of Britain and Northern Ireland, with a knapsack only He stayed in whatever accommodations he could find like cheap seaside hotels off season and conversed with everyone who would reciprocate. I got a bit annoyed with his game of assigning a name to people he saw and voice-overing to himself what they were saying or thinking, but most of the dialogues are real-life. Not a big anglophile he, nor a train buff ...more
May 18, 2016 Brenda rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Last summer I read “The Kingdom By the Sea” and visited England for the first time. Reading “The Kingdom” while I traveled added to the joy of the trip. Theroux says there is “Nothing more restful than an English branchline train” and then he takes us to the upper reaches of Scotland where virtually the only motorized vehicle for passengers is the van which carries the mail and where people speak with a “Viking accent”. He describes the “ginger sea”, the “fractured coast” and the “reassuring pas ...more
Neil Pierson
Admittedly, Great Britain wasn't at its best when Paul Theroux decided to circle the coast, mostly walking and by train. The UK was fighting the Falklands War, there was a train strike, and worst of all, the country was in the throes (Therouxes?) of a severe economic slump with no end in sight.

But is that why almost everyplace he sees is dull or ugly? Is that why almost everyone he talks to is unpleasant, a bore, racist, argumentative, threatening, or just goofy?

Theroux writes beautiful, precise
Richard Waddington
Considering that this author lived in Britain for many years, was married to a British lady and had two sons - who were born and brought up in Britain - he sure hates the country and its people.

This book is a typically joyless diatribe which seems to fail on every level. He doesn't achieve what he set out to do (travel around the British coastline by train - while deliberately avoiding any and all large settlements (at least, on the mainland) and anything of cultural significance) and yet still
Apr 10, 2013 Ashley rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Reread during my recent Theroux binge.
Tito Quiling, Jr.
While the reviews here seems to be predominantly on the southern side, my take on Theroux's writings on the British Isles as he goes through its coastline (along with a few train rides) is right in the middle. The first few chapters begin slow but picks up its pace as it gets to the middle, however, one feature remains the same and that is the author's view of the places as being downright somber. Despite being a local, I still doubt it a person cannot see any different view of his hometown and ...more
The travel writer decides to visit his adopted country and walks or takes the train or bus around the coast of Britain, including Ulster. Britain in the mid-’80s was a bleak, economically depressed place; Theroux, at least in this book, is a bleak, spiritually depressed person. He mocks the British for their foibles. He mocks them for their proverbially reserved, taciturn manner, then he mocks them when they’re garrulous, nostalgic and wistful. He lists ways in which British seaside towns are al ...more
Ronald Wise
Jul 26, 2011 Ronald Wise rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Reading this book carefully while following Theroux's course on Wikimapia, I feel like I've retroactively added a new dimension to all the Brit lit I've ever read, and the British cinema and television I've ever seen. I now have a more vivid image of scene and character that comes directly from this author's descriptions of the geological and ethnic variations along the British coastline.

Theroux started at Margate on the south side of the Thames' mouth, and traveled clockwise around Great Britai
Oct 30, 2012 Hugh rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobook
I enjoyed reading The Great Railway Bazaar so wanted to read more travel books by Paul Theroux.

In Kingdom by the Sea he chose travel the UK's coastline, on foot where possible, visiting dreary sea-side towns, and staying in scruffy B&Bs. But his bizarre choice of route and destinations leads to a dull, repetitive and somewhat depressing view of the country, towns and its people.

One cannot be of an opinion other than that he had decided in advance the view he wished to portray. He carefully a
Dec 07, 2011 Drew rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: abandoned
Having got more than halfway into this book I put it aside and it slipped from my mind. Not to say that it was bad: it had that same mixture of dogged, dyspeptic misanthropy and highbrow disregard for the everyday that makes Theroux's work so wretchedly funny - in parts at least. But what it lacked was a narrative reaching beyond its basic premise, which is, put simply, to go around the whole sea coast of Britain by foot, train and bus.
This leads to a curiously episodic form that only with diff
Jul 01, 2012 Jane rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
All travel writers are not the same. Some are humorous, poking fun at places and people. Some are very serious, explaining facts at every turn. And some are observers. For me, Paul Theroux is the latter. I haven't come away with any new, great insights into the coast of the UK. I have made a couple of notes of coastlines to visit - mainly in Scotland. I love the sea, and there are portions of the UK coastline that I already love too - Gower, Pembrokeshire, Yorkshire - and in the back of my mind ...more
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Paul Edward Theroux is an American travel writer and novelist, whose best known work is The Great Railway Bazaar (1975), a travelogue about a trip he made by train from Great Britain through Western and Eastern Europe, the Middle East, through South Asia, then South-East Asia, up through East Asia, as far east as Japan, and then back across Russia to his point of origin. Although perhaps best know ...more
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“I said I didn't think it would be a collectivist state so much as a wilderness in which most people lived hand to mouth, and the rich would live like princes - better than the rich had ever lived, except that their lives would constantly be in danger from the hungry predatory poor. All the technology would serve the rich, but they would need it for their own protection and to assure their continued prosperity.” 1 likes
“The larger an English industry was, the more likely it was to go bankrupt, because the English were not naturally corporate people; they disliked working for others and they seemed to resent taking orders. On the whole, directors were treated absurdly well, and workers badly, and most industries were weakened by class suspicion and false economies and cynicism. But the same qualities that made English people seem stubborn and secretive made them, face to face, reliable and true to their word. I thought: The English do small things well and big things badly.” 1 likes
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