A Field Guide to the British

Sarah Lyall

A Field Guide to the British

In 1996 Sarah Lyall, a New York Times reporter, left behind her American roots and moved to London for love. As that newspaper's correspondent in London, she became known here for her witty and incisive dispatches from her adopted country, as she conjured with her new and eccentric countrymen. She also found herself with a ringside seat at a singular moment in British life: the roller-coaster years of Tony Blair's New Labour had inaugurated a battle between the old world of aristocratic privilege and a new world of modern meritocracy. In "A Field Guide to the British", Lyall strides her way readably, eloquently and perceptively across the social, political and cultural landscape of contemporary Britain. In a narrative studded with memorable anecdote and rich in humour, she explores themes as diverse as peers, politics, the media, understatement, the weather, and Britain's relationship with animals, alcohol and sex. She ponders such matters as the missing link between the famous British reserve and the famous British hooliganism (could it possibly be binge drinking?) ; how any parliamentary motion is ever passed when the Commons act like naughty schoolboys and the Lords spend two days debating UFOs; and the age-old question of how anyone could possibly enjoy a game as tedious as cricket. 3.8 out of 5 based on 8 reviews
A Field Guide to the British

Omniscore:

Classification Non-fiction
Genre Society, Politics & Philosophy, Humour
Format Hardback
Pages 288
RRP £14.99
Date of Publication October 2008
ISBN 978-1847245823
Publisher Quercus
 

In 1996 Sarah Lyall, a New York Times reporter, left behind her American roots and moved to London for love. As that newspaper's correspondent in London, she became known here for her witty and incisive dispatches from her adopted country, as she conjured with her new and eccentric countrymen. She also found herself with a ringside seat at a singular moment in British life: the roller-coaster years of Tony Blair's New Labour had inaugurated a battle between the old world of aristocratic privilege and a new world of modern meritocracy. In "A Field Guide to the British", Lyall strides her way readably, eloquently and perceptively across the social, political and cultural landscape of contemporary Britain. In a narrative studded with memorable anecdote and rich in humour, she explores themes as diverse as peers, politics, the media, understatement, the weather, and Britain's relationship with animals, alcohol and sex. She ponders such matters as the missing link between the famous British reserve and the famous British hooliganism (could it possibly be binge drinking?) ; how any parliamentary motion is ever passed when the Commons act like naughty schoolboys and the Lords spend two days debating UFOs; and the age-old question of how anyone could possibly enjoy a game as tedious as cricket.

Reviews

The Independent

Nick Groom

It is a ship of fools, a best of British beef-wittedness – rather like having a garrulous dinner party guest who holds all entranced from the end of the table with a sparklingly witty monologue on the gruesome horrors of boarding school and the sexual allure of Margaret Thatcher, the parallel universe of cricket, and the evergreen eccentricities of the class system, the preposterous oafishness of Jeremy Clarkson and the cartoonish tomfoolery of Boris Johnson, risible dentristry, bad hotels, worse food, poor football, the weather – it's pretty much all here. Predictable stuff maybe, but told with such verve and wit that the book deserves a place in every lavatory, loo, or (god forbid) toilet in the country.

24/10/2008

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The New Statesman

Sean Quinn Walpole

Lyall provides a new slant on a well-worn theme - the English and their peculiarities, little and large. Her Field Guide takes the reader along on her sometimes uncomfortable journey to embrace life in England and when the embracing proves unappetising she anatomises the source of her bemusement with wit, sweetness and considerable style.

20/11/2008

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The New York Times

Matt Weiland

Lyall is a first-rate reporter, and her book has all the hallmarks of her journalism: it is warm, blunt, confessional, companionable. Which is to say: it is very American. The country she describes, “that oldest and most charismatic of nation-states,” as the writer Jan Morris once called it, is cold, private, oblique to the point of opacity and reticent to the point of silence. Which is to say: it is very British. The book’s charm lies in the collision of these two facts.

22/08/2008

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The Sunday Times

Christopher Hart

She has written this elegant, witty, perceptive but by no means gushing guide in tribute to her adopted country, keeping a sharp eye out for gossip, a good anecdote and the contradictions at the heart of the British character.

05/10/2008

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The Washington Post

Jonathan Yardley

Lyall, an American who has lived in England for more than a decade -- she is a correspondent for the New York Times, and her husband, Robert McCrum, is literary editor of the London Observer -- has a keen eye for oddities and a tart prose style for recording them... Lyall actually likes and respects the British, but mostly she plays it for laughs, especially where snobbery and class are concerned. My favorite: "When my husband displays to airline check-in clerks the faux-impressive gift I bought for him as a joke at the House of Lords gift shop -- a maroon passport cover with 'House of Lords' stamped on the front -- he often gets upgraded to business class."

16/11/2008

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The Financial Times

Shawn Donnan

“In a nation of the chronically ill-at-ease,” Lyall writes, “alcohol is the lubricant that eases the pain of frightening social encounters, an essential prelude to relaxation, even rudimentary conversation.”... Lyall’s book is not without fault, as her focus is on the ruling elite. But it is an affectionate portrait by an erudite outsider who remains perplexed by her adopted homeland’s quirkier traditions.

20/12/2008

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The Los Angeles Times

Susan Salter Reynolds

In her first book “The Anglo Files: A Field Guide to the British,” Sarah Lyall – who moved to London in the mid-1990s as a correspondent for the New York Times and married British writer-editor Robert McCrum – tracks the odd and endearing behaviors that help us measure our own quirks and cultural obsessions. “We look to the future; they look to the past,” she writes. “We run for election; they stand for it. We noisily and proudly proclaim our Americanness; they shuffle their feet and apologize for their Britishness.”

30/08/2008

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The Scotsman

David Robertson

For all its good cheer, The Anglo Files doesn't capture enough of the richness of the country it describes. Britain today feels like a dynamic, messy society in the midst of a long, tense argument with itself. I wish Lyall's book had more to say about the extraordinary effects, psychological as much as economic, of ongoing deindustrialisation; about Britain's surprisingly resilient sense of regional identity; its continued decline in international power and loss of national self-confidence; and the effects of mass immigration. This is a nation to which more than a million people from Eastern Europe alone have migrated since 2004. It's about time people writing books like this sought out those kind of new truths rather than the old, musty clichés.

15/11/2008

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