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Review: On Royalty by Jeremy Paxman

This third volume in Paxman’s series on British culture essentially presents a well-argued case for retaining the monarchy, whilst simultaneously recognising the manifold flaws, improbabilities, and injustices of the system. And, actually, I rather agree with his point of view – which, to some degree, makes for a less challenging and engaging read. I always think it’s always more interesting to read things which challenge your views, rather than things which reinforce them – though often, things which challenge your views end up reinforcing them anyway.

Paxman uses an awful lot of history of our monarchy, and several throughout the world, to flesh out his argument, and there is obvious potential for this to become very dry and dull – a potential that, fortunately, is never fulfilled. Paxman crafts a cogent, coherent, and entertaining argument, presented with the wry, dry humour for which he has become renowned.

The real joy of the book is in Paxman’s narrative. It would be easy for a title such as these to lose its narrative thread, but by providing a clear argument running throughout the book, Paxman manages to engage the reader and maintain their engagement, even when explaining complex historical events – albeit in a very accessible style.

Paxman provides a robustly constructed, irreverent, and entertaining guide to an institution he argues is simultaneously and paradoxically anachronistic, yet relevant and essential to today’s society. To a person like me – relatively poorly informed about British history – Paxman provides a great introduction and makes a clear argument for retention of the monarchy, whilst also allowing his trademark personality to shine through.

I thoroughly enjoyed On Royalty, and would happily recommend it: Its humour gives it easy-read levity, whilst its recurring themes and central message make it thought-provoking and memorable.



On Royalty is available now from amazon.co.uk in paperback and on Kindle.

This 1,982nd post was filed under: Book Reviews, .

Weekend read: An inspector calls

This 1,981st post was filed under: Weekend Reads.

Review: Beyond Words by John Humphrys

Beyond Words by John Humphrys was published in 2006 in the wake of the popularity of Lynne Truss’s Eats Shoots and Leaves. It’s very much in the same vein, essentially a extended rant about the use of language, though Humphrys’s is rather less instructive. The back cover has one of the most accurate blurbs I’ve read in a long time: “What are the words and expressions that irk, intrigue and provoke John Humphrys?”

Amusingly, the book is subtitled ‘How Language Reveals The Way We Live Now’. I hypothesise that this subtitle was not submitted by Mr Humphrys himself. Firstly, I Don’t Think He’d Approve Of Capitalisation Of The First Letter Of Every Word. In fact, he rails against it in the book. Secondly, his narrative does not address ‘how language reveals the way we live now’. Not really. It is just a jolly romp through the modern day use of language.

This is entertaining, engaging, and it makes some interesting points about the development of language. It’s also genuinely funny. He has particularly memorable rants against familiar targets such as “Your M&S” (“The slogan implies that the product or service has been specially designed just for you personally. It hasn’t. The stuff is mass-produced for a mass market and the business – like almost every other large business around the world – is becoming less and less personal.”) and the Inland Revenue (“‘working with the largest customer base of any UK organisation'” is meaningless because the “customers” simply have no choice).

In contrast to Lynne Truss, who, apparently without irony, lamented the decline of formal English in an unnecessarily conversational grammar guide, John Humphrys takes a more reflective and analytical approach to changes in language. His tone is equally conversational and laced with humour, but without the repetitive vitriolic condemnation of the reader typical of Truss. And, in fairness, without the perhaps useful instruction that Truss provides.

Humphrys is easy to read. Perhaps it’s the way his voice is imprinted on my brain from years of listening to Radio 4, but his book reads almost as if one is in the room with him, and listening to a well-argued, highly entertaining monologue. And, unlike lesser authors, Humphrys is not trying to argue that misplaced apostrophes are the cause of social decline: He takes a reasoned approach to his arguments, which makes his conclusions seem all the more valid.

All-in-all, Beyond Words is a great read. It’s interesting and informative, genuinely funny, and short enough not to labour its points. I’d highly recommend it to anyone with even a passing interest in the English language.

Beyond Words is available now from amazon.co.uk in paperback and on Kindle.

This 1,980th post was filed under: Book Reviews, .

Weekend read: How carrots became the new junk food

This week’s recommendation is an absolutely brilliant article from Fast Company profiling Jeff Dunn, a former Coca Cola executive who swapped marketing sugar water for marketing carrots… with some success! The article’s by Douglas McGray.

This 1,979th post was filed under: Weekend Reads.


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