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The Anglo Files: A Field Guide to the British

3.46 of 5 stars 3.46  ·  rating details  ·  1,408 ratings  ·  312 reviews
Sarah Lyall, a reporter for the New York Times, moved to London in the mid-1990s and soon became known for her amusing and incisive dispatches on her adopted country. As she came to terms with its eccentric inhabitants (the English husband who never turned on the lights, the legislators who behaved like drunken frat boys, the hedgehog lovers, the people who extracted their ...more
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published August 17th 2008 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published 2008)
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Hannah
Rating Clarification: 2.5 Stars

Did contain some humorous observations, but most of of Lyall's anecdotes had too much of a New York Times elitist edge to satisfy my personal taste. Her style of humor came across as more condescending then balanced or friendly.

All-in-all, I prefer Bill Bryson's take on the Brits (Notes from a Small Island). He's an American living abroad who seems to be able to poke gentle fun of his adopted country while at the same time revealing how incredible and special he th
...more
Laura
If you want to read an affectionately humorous account by an American immersed in English culture, try Bill Bryson’s Notes from a Small Island. Much of this book, on the other hand, consists of anecdotes involving the author’s visits to Harley Street doctors and her children’s exclusive private school or hobnobbing with English friends, most of whom seem to be Old Etonians and/or from the titled classes. Many of the literary references used to highlight the English character come from Evelyn Wau ...more
Rufusgermanicus Meelberg
An excellent book, I read it in the space of a day, and wished I hadn't finished so quickly. It's a great look into modern British life, the aspects of which can be bizarre. Particularly brilliant are the chapters dealing with the nobility, the government, and the rather dubious "press". One of my favorite (or should it be favourite?) quotes: "Oops," said one noble giving me a tour of his home,"This window has unfortunately fallen out onto the lawn."
Danika
I actually found this book VERY funny. Not terribly unique, but if you're at all interested in British culture, you'll enjoy it. Loved the chapter on bad British teeth. Here's a crazy statistic: in 1979 TWENTY EIGHT PERCENT of all Britons had NO TEETH! Yikes! Also, she examines, British relationship with alcohol, weather and 'the stiff upper lip'. A bit slow going, but overall very enjoyable.
Ray Campbell
This is a critical, tongue in cheek look at contemporary British culture. Lyall is an American journalist who has lived in Britain for more than 20 years. She points to the usual stereotypes and attempts, rather unscientifically, to rationalize, justify and explain why they are true. Lyall covers bad teeth, bad weather, sexual dysfunction, the House of Lords debating the existence of UFOs, bad public healthcare, bad public schools, intense class division, economic stagnation, hedgehogs and crick ...more
Tom
A high-handed critique of English classism, sexism, homophobia, the House of Lords, hedgehogs, bad food... also their love of alcohol and self-denigration.

It all came off as critical and of all things, condescending... maybe even derisive? The author lacks any degree of affection for her topic. There are lots of snobby anecdotes about the author hanging out with her friends in the British aristocracy. This all would have been fine and good if there was humor... even biting humor. But not really
...more
Rebecca
Sarah Lyall is a very talented writer. I chuckled out loud multiple times per chapter. Granted, she has good material, much of which did the work for her. An American living in London and married to a Brit, she keenly observes the quirks of the British character and British culture. So we learn about boarding schools that terrorize their otherwise privileged students; the hilarious House of Commons, in which, supposedly, it doesn't matter if you're drunk, as long as you show up; British journali ...more
David
Lured on by the mendacious cover blurbs ("razor-sharp, wickedly insightful, hilarious" - oh, really, Graydon Carter?; "an exquisite, hilarious and devastating dissection of the British" - for shame, Malcolm Gladwell, you lie like a rug!), I was actually suckered into paying full price for this bowl of insipid gruel. Come on, Ms Lyall, if the reader is promised a merciless takedown of the Brits, you have an obligation to deliver - Lord knows there's plenty of material to choose from. Modest hand- ...more
Wendy
Note that while this book claims to be a "field guide to the British", it's mostly about the English, and, I suspect, largely about middle and upper class types from the South of England at that. I suppose that's okay - that is what most Americans think of when they think of the English, and really exhaustively cataloguing the British would require a much longer book.

I think that any American who is already interested in British culture will find this book a mix of genuinely interesting observa
...more
Kay
I chose this book after a recent UK trip because, after every visit, I inevitably end up feeling that although I can, and do, have conversations with people there, somehow it feels as if we're kind of talking past each other. I always end up feeling like "I'm doing it wrong", somehow. Even something as simple as negotiating walking on a sidewalk confounds my expectations. (I'd really appreciate it if someone could tell me what the rules are, for that!)

This book is a compilation of articles writt
...more
Paul
A sarcastic, bitchy approach to a satirical synopsis of British people which does nothing to scratch the surface and openly reinforces the American stereotypes of the British.

Her idea of dissecting British identity is not only flawed - she only looks at one small, therefore unrepresentative section of society - but one that is about as deep and well researched as an article in any number of elitist society magazines.

There is no analysis of the working classes, social stereotypes, regional dialec
...more
Silvio111
Brilliant, literate, funny commentary about the Natives (British society) from an American who is married to one. Maybe it is Lyall's generation (I think she is in her 30s, which means she was born around 1980-something. This means she did not live through a lot of the stuff she is lampooning, and so she is unconstrained, yet she has observed this older generation of people, so like an anthropologist (or perhaps like an ornithologist...) she has seen a lot.

Being a person who grew up in the Beatl
...more
Elle
"British men are so gay. They'll say they're not, but that's because they're British and so repressed. I've heard they don't even like the word 'vagina.' Maybe it was because they were paddled on the arse as boys. Did I mention they have bad teeth, too? And what's the deaaaaaal with blood sausage?"

Though the text makes it obvious that the author thinks her writing is clever, it's not. What's intended to be a wry description of life and culture in England comes across as a petulant whine interspe
...more
Corinne
Sarah is an American, but she lives in Britain. She is also married to a Briton, and has worked as a journalist in Britain for several years, so she's in a pretty position to write a book on what it is that makes the people living on that small island so unique. I was intrigued by the idea of this book after hearing the author interviewed on NPR and I was not disappointed. I think what is most fascinating to me is that you'd think Americans and Britons would be so much more alike than we are, ba ...more
Erik
As many have already figured out, I’m a bit of a anglophile – what with my interest in British naval fiction set during the Napoleonic Wars, Shakespearean drama (this an older interest carrying over from my late teens and early twenties), Tudor and Elizabethan court intrigue, a good swathe of nineteenth-century British fiction (yes, I like Austen), as well as twentieth-century British fantasy and (this of late) science-fiction. I’ve also been to the great city of London on no less than four occa ...more
Colin
If I could provide a 2.5 star rating I would. There's nothing inherently wrong with this book, but Lyall touches on part of the problem when she talks about the challenges for the Engish in identifying an identify for themselves, collectively, that's somehow different from being British... not least because the combination of being the majority of Britons and parochialism means that for many English people, the two descriptors are interchangeable. She's really talking about the English, not that ...more
Dot
I'm still listening to this on audio and have mixed feelings about it. Since I am British by birth and education, but a resident and citizen of Canada for most of my adult life, I am both horrified and a little upset at Sarah Lyall's account of the Brits and their behaviour. I suppose the British part of me feels that while it is OK for me to moan about what has befallen my country of origin, I don't like when an American is so critical. On other hand, I often feel despondent when I hear of what ...more
Genevieve
I am in similar shoes as the author (an American married to an Englishman) and suspected there might be similar opinions/experiences that came with a cross-cultural relationship. I suspect I was hoping for something more along the lines of Bill Bryson's "Notes from a Small Island". (which everyone should read) I found the Lyall's book rather limited. It came across as rather London-centric (which makes some sense as she does live there) and she seems rather focused on a rather narrow percentage ...more
Kris
Most Americans like to think they know the British, but few actually do. When we hear of trips to ol' Blighty, inevitably, we think of plummy accents, educated conversation, stately music, tea, polite society, bad food, wonky teeth, and the Queen. Not to say there aren't elements of truth here, but it's almost as simple to encapsulate talk about trips to America (by which we imperially mean the US) into similarly neat categories like: ignorant philistines, country music, bad coffee, crass cowboy ...more
Ellie
While deciding whether to spend my time reading this book, I looked up a few reviews at amazon.com. Some people found the book funny, but one word that stuck with me was "derisive." At the time, I though "Oh, that's just a Brit taking offense at pokes at their culture." But that is exactly how I would describe this book. The author is a New Yorker who married a Brit and moved there, giving birth to two daughters. I'm curious how she can live there and apparently hate the country and its people s ...more
Gina Huber
I really wanted to like this book. My husband played a portion for me when he was listening to it, so I thought I'd give it a whirl. I was looking for entertainment, but aside from a few laughs, I was disappointed. I found the flow very disjointed. I kept asking myself "what does this (pick a topic - government, teeth, preoccupation with boys and their lecherous headmasters)have to do with anything?" for me, it was like a train wreck. I wanted to stop, but I kept hoping it would get better. I ju ...more
Mark
Horrible, absolutely horrible. Here's my Amazon review I wrote a couple of years ago.

My American Wife bought me this for Christmas, and I was quite looking forward to reading it. As other reviewers pointed out, the dust jacket implied funny, hilarious even, observations of the British in the style of Bill Bryson. It could not have been further from the truth, or more disappointing. As a Brit I've enjoyed Bryson's witty observations and commentary on life in Britain, sometimes complimentary, some
...more
Kellie
NYTimes reporter Sarah Lyall married an Englishman and moved to London in the mid-nineties. Since then, she's faithfully written down her close-range observations of her adopted country. The result is this book. I first heard about it when a friend and I made a pilgrimage to Politics and Prose in D.C. and we found copies for lovely low prices. As a regular partaker of any kind of British-accented entertainment I can get my hands on, I was in. I immediately got a kick out of the cover, which show ...more
Jonathan
A highly entertaining read in which the author is not afraid to - politely and pleasantly - to go for the jugular.

Being a New Zealander and spent three years in London in the 1990s as well as having an English mother it is always interesting to tease out meaning of Britishness. British/English culture is so influential and ubiquitous in its own right, then filtered through American, Australian and my own culture that it is fascinating to try to separate the distinctively British parts from the r
...more
Kirsti
Essays about what it's like to be an upper-middle-class American married to an upper-class Briton. The personal anecdotes are tiresome, but her reporting is interesting. Includes chapters about eccentricity, false modesty, sexism, freezing cold beach holidays, alcoholism, hooligans, and dentistry.
E
Dec 23, 2014 E rated it 2 of 5 stars
Shelves: geekery
I was ready to like this book more than I did. Each chapter took a look at an oddity of British society from the point of view of a New York transplant writer. So far so good. I was interested in chapters that had more social commentary than personal anecdotes. Parliamentary behavior? Fascinating! Transit and shopping behavior changing for the nation as a whole? Also good. Personal accounts of dinners and stilted conversation with reticent colleagues? Eh.
I wanted more anthropology than solo bem
...more
Erica-Lynn
While I admit I did laugh out loud many times while reading The Anglo Files, I found it an incomplete and distorted examination of British life, culture, and people. I’m part English and have a lot of family in England; none of us are upper class (solidly middle-to-working, actually), and we span the generations of post-second World War Britain to very young ‘New Britain.’ Having read Lyall’s hilarious list of the differences between Britishisms and Americanisms in the NYTimes, and knowing Lyall ...more
Amy
Lyall, an American who has lived in the U.K. for many years, dissects British culture in a style as devastatingly witty as the Brits themselves. The first chapter, on British attitudes towards sex ("rumpy-pumpy" is a term that really should be in wider use) struck me as a bit harsh, but subsequent chapters were generally more nuanced, and her insights are frequently fascinating. The chapter on cricket is particularly masterful ("it is a game for people who like to endure things"), as is the chap ...more
Lolly's Library
2.5 stars

Occasionally funny, occasionally insightful, I found The Anglo Files less "A field guide to the British" (as the book is erroneously subtitled, in my opinion) and more a window into Sarah Lyall's quirks and hang-ups. Yes, the clash of cultures aspect could be amusing at times and it's true, the Brits have their share of oddball ticks. Then again, so does a transplanted New York-er. It's all a matter of perspective. Not to mention the fact the book focuses on a specific upper-class strat
...more
Kim
This book was, I think, intended to be an objective and amusing view of how the English differ from Americans. It is written for Americans. She says at one point that it isn’t a competition, that things are simply VERY different. It is truly loving and indeed, laugh out loud hilarious at times. She obviously deeply appreciates and admires her adopted country and it’s subjects. And, just based on the English people that I’ve known and lived with (I’ve never actually been to England), it’s pretty ...more
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