Books that are truly worth reading

Watching The English

Kate Fox

In Watching The English, anthropologist Kate Fox takes a revealing look at the quirks, habits and foibles of the English people. She puts the English national character under her anthropological microscope, and finds a strange and fascinating culture, governed by complex sets of unspoken rules and byzantine codes of behaviour. The rules of weather-speak. The ironic-gnome rule. The reflex apology rule. The paranoid-pantomime rule. Class indicators and class anxiety tests. The money-talk taboo and many more ...Through a mixture of anthropological analysis and her own unorthodox experiments (using herself as a reluctant guinea-pig), Kate Fox discovers what these unwritten behaviour codes tell us about Englishness.

Recommended by Martin

This book gave me a little bit of an existential crisis, but in a good way: it makes you (assuming you’re English) realise how many of your preferences, quirks and character traits are determined not by something individual to you but simply by the way you fit into your place in our very odd country. Kate Fox methodically and rigorously dissects, experiments on and analyses the weird and wonderful culture and norms of the English, in a way which makes the normal life that we are so used to living seem curious and very alien, yet everything rings completely true. It has the rigour of true sociological research and the humour and storytelling of the very best popular science books.

It is tempting to think that because there are such a vast number of books published every year, that no book truly stands on its own, so when I finished this book I immediately set about looking for similar books, either on other cultures (especially the French, since I moved there last year) or more on the English, but there simply don’t seem to be any out there. This is something genuinely new, and it’s amazing that something like this which is the first of its kind is also this polished, enthralling and thoroughly entertaining, both to the English themselves but also, judging by its reviews, to visitors and immigrants who are mystified by our ways.