Audiobook Review: The Anglo Files

The Anglo Files:  A Field Guide To The British, by Sarah Lyall, read by Cassandra Campbell

If you are looking for a humorous guide to the British, it is hard to do better than this.  I cannot exactly praise this book without qualifications, for although the book was immensely eccentric, and also very entertaining, there were a lot of aspects about the book that I found to be somewhat irreverent in ways that I felt uncomfortable with.  The author’s view of sexuality was particularly troubling, if not particularly uncommon, and there was a general lack of respect for other people and a certain joy in making fun of others.  As much as I love wit, I found the approach of this author to be a bit too disrespectful for my own tastes.  As someone who likes studying British history and culture a great deal [1], I did find a lot of value in this book, and so I give it a guarded recommendation to fellow Anglophile readers.  A reader or listener of this book needs to be warned, though, that this book is going to have a lot to say that is not particularly kind towards various people, and the author sometimes goes out of her way to name names.

The organization of the book is somewhat haphazard and scattered.  Topics are introduced, but not in an order that seems logical.  Each of the chapters can be taken as a standalone set piece that has only a slight connection to other topics, often in the form of a recurring joke–like the subjects brought up before the House of Lords, or the awkwardness of the English in general.  In listening to the author’s discussion, I found a great deal to relate to personally.  The great ambivalence of the British, their enjoyment of standoffish animals like the hedgehog, and their tension between the stiff upper lip and a more contemporary confessional style are all matters I can relate to.  The author herself seems strangely unsympathetic, with her interest in interviewing louts, her lack of regard for history and her fondness for tabloid sleaze is a bit off-putting.  There is clearly a market for this sort of pro-Labor government, anti-tradition, lightweight approach, but one can only hope that the author’s writing didn’t lead her into any libel proceedings because of what she said about various people.

Ultimately, how you feel about this book will depend on various factors.  Are you more amused or irritated/offended by the author’s approach?  Do you really like finding out about the oddness and eccentricities of British culture, ranging from what it means to be British to questions of political reform, the slow and gradual growing of a customer service culture, and the conflict between a sense of distance from people and a fondness for protecting animals?  The more you have a fondness for odd and quirky things, and the less you mind people humblebragging about their own struggles to get along in an alien culture, the more you will enjoy this book.  For me, as a reader, I found much to enjoy when the author was behaving like an anthropologist and much to be irritated about when the author goes into partisan mode or considers herself to be above the British press and their attitudes.  Ironically enough, the author is at her most British when she is trying to prove her bona fides as an American capable of understanding the British and looking down a bit on the British.  When she is at her most arrogant, she is also at her most irritating, something that is pretty common, unfortunately.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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5 Responses to Audiobook Review: The Anglo Files

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