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Across the Pond: An Englishman's View…

Across the Pond: An Englishman's View of America

by Terry Eagleton

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Not as humorous as I had hoped it would be. I always enjoy the various viewpoints of people who come to live or work in the US for a length of time. I've had this book on my shelf for a few years now and decided to finally take it down and give it a go. It's supposed to be a funny look at the US through the eyes of someone who was not born and raised here.
It's not. There are a lot of comparisons to Bill Bryson, and not for the better. I actually never liked Bryson so these reviews weren't really too meaningful to me. But they have a point. Eagleton isn't funny or as witty as he thinks he is. I'm not saying that Yanks should be above criticism, but his writing is tedious. His introduction talks about the "usefulness" of stereotypes and I had to automatically give him a side-eye, not knowing where he was coming from on this topic and feeling leery.
His book perhaps wanted to be funny but came across as too serious and too critical. I couldn't help but compare it to 'Stuff Brits Like' which is formatted differently (and is more of explaining British quirks, habits, likes, etc.) but was short, to point and was actually funny in helping the reader understand things like tea, the BBC, etc. This book seemed like it was trying to be some sort of surgical psychoanalysis.
Luckily I got this as a bargain though. If you're an Anglophile I still wouldn't recommend it, although if you're really interested try the library. It's not a must read by any means. ( )
  acciolibros | Feb 11, 2018 |
Nothing too insightful or funny, but I've always liked outsider looking in sort of books, so I think it's a decent read nonetheless. ( )
  litalex | Oct 6, 2015 |
Delightful reading. Incisive biting wit from cover to cover. ( )
  VGAHarris | Jan 19, 2015 |
Terry Eagleton considers America, what characterizes it as a nation, and how it differs from Great Britain and Ireland. He's not talking about individual Americans here, of course -- we no doubt differ just as widely as people anywhere else -- but about the culture in which Americans live. His ruminations on the subject range from flippant and frivolous comments to some fairly deep analysis of American thought patterns and how they have evolved from the country's puritan roots. There's also quite a lot of space in the middle where it's not always possible to tell just how serious he's intending to be -- a characteristic he would insist is extremely British, or at least very not-American.

It's an interesting and provocative little book. I found my reactions to it ranging all over the place: "That might be a little bit offensive" would quickly be followed by, "But that is funny because it's true," and "True or not, that's freaking hilarious." "That is a good and relevant observation" alternated a lot with "I'm not entirely sure how I feel about this, but it's certainly thought-provoking" and occasionaly "What on earth is he on about now?"

I'm not sure it's possible to give a sense of this book without quoting a bit of Eagleton's writing, so here's a sample:

"Because of the all-powerful will, Americans are great believers in the fraudulent doctrine that you can do anything you want if you try hard enough. In no other country on earth does one hear this consoling lie chanted so often. If you want to fly to Rio and there is no airport to hand, simply want it as hard as you can and feathers will sprout spontaneously from your biceps. When the United States finally killed Osama bin Laden, Barack Obama declared with mathematical predictability that it was an example of how the country could do anything it set its mind to. He did not mention that ten years is a rather long time for the omnipotent will to creak into action. One wonders why the nation does not put its mind to abolishing poverty, if all of its mental strivings are guaranteed to succeed. The United States has a larger proportion of its population in prison, higher levels of mental illness, greater rates of teenage pregnancy, a lower level of child well-being, and higher levels of poverty and social exclusion than most other developed nations. Perhaps this is because its people have not been exercising their wills in concert. Perhaps a date and time should be appointed for, say, the willing away of criminal gangs, when great hordes of people can emerge civic-mindedly on the streets and bend their collective mental efforts to this end."

I should point out that by no means is all of it that negative. But I think that paragraph right there is probably enough to tell you whether or not this is a book you'll appreciate.

Rating: 4/5, not because I agree with everything in it, but because it's interesting and frequently very funny, and because it's always good to get an outsider's perspective. ( )
2 vote bragan | Jul 8, 2014 |
Authors from Alexis de Tocqueville and Charles Dickens to Alistair Cooke and Bill Bryson have, over the years, made “America, seen through foreign eyes” an evergreen literary subgenre. Literature scholar Terry Eagleton, a Briton who has lived and taught for years in the United States, joins their ranks with Across the Pond.

Eagleton’s subject here is not America but Americans, and (by extension) the English and the Irish rather than their respective homelands. He’s interested in people rather than places, and specifically in the shared habits of belief, thought, and action that makes one clump of people collectively different than other another. Done badly, this kind of thing can degenerate into crude stereotyping, but Eagleton does it well. His observations are sharp, his conclusions insightful, and his ability to weave them into a coherent picture considerable. Better yet, all this comes wrapped in humorous prose that, at its best, attains a level of comic surrealism reminiscent of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Here, for example, is Eagleton on (seemingly) the most mundane of cultural differences, pronunciation: “I once rang an American colleague and reached his voicemail, which announced: ‘This is Mike and Marie. We do not reply to silly questions.’ Perhaps they had been besieged by callers asking to know how many triangular pink objects they had in the house, or how much it cost to rent a lawnmower in Kuala Lumpur. Later I realized he had said ‘survey questions.’”

The artistry with which Eagleton blends serious (if impressionistic) anthropological observation and humor becomes fully apparent in Chapter 3, which discusses Americans’ physical bodies, and attitudes toward them. There, and only there, he turns (almost) completely serious without announcing or, seemingly, realizing it. The observations are still as sharp, and the insights just as unexpected, but the absence of humor transforms the experience of reading them. Had the book been written entirely in that style, I would still have read it and counted the couple of hours invested in it as time well spent. I’m very glad, however, that I got to read this version instead. ( )
1 vote ABVR | May 17, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 8 (next | show all)
Across the Pond rises to a secondary virtue unmentioned by Wood: acerbic echo chamber of all the truisms we’ve encountered forever about America.
added by thorold | editBookforum, Carlin Romano (Aug 1, 2013)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0393088987, Hardcover)

“Terry Eagleton has a gift for the kind of generalizations that at first appear outrageous but seem, on reflection, annoyingly perceptive. Were I one of the expressive Americans he describes, I’d call this book awesome; as a constipated Brit, I’m inclined to say that it is not at all bad.”—Henry Hitchings, author of The Secret Life of Words

Americans have long been fascinated with the oddness of the British, but the English, says literary critic Terry Eagleton, find their transatlantic neighbors just as strange. Only an alien race would admiringly refer to a colleague as “aggressive,” use superlatives to describe everything from one’s pet dog to one’s rock collection, or speak frequently of being “empowered.” Why, asks Eagleton, must we broadcast our children’s school grades with bumper stickers announcing “My Child Made the Honor Roll”? Why don’t we appreciate the indispensability of the teapot? And why must we remain so irritatingly optimistic, even when all signs point to failure?

On his quirky journey through the language, geography, and national character of the United States, Eagleton proves to be at once an informal and utterly idiosyncratic guide to our peculiar race. He answers the questions his compatriots have always had but (being British) dare not ask, like why Americans willingly rise at the crack of dawn, even on Sundays, or why we publicly chastise cigarette smokers as if we’re all spokespeople for the surgeon general.

In this pithy, warmhearted, and very funny book, Eagleton melds a good old-fashioned roast with genuine admiration for his neighbors “across the pond.”

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:17:42 -0400)

A native Briton describes America and its citizens through his English eyes, humorously questioning their choices in bumper stickers, use of adjectives and superlatives, and their overall lack of appreciation for the teapot.

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