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What Everyone Knows About Britain* (*Except The British)

"A Lesson in National Self Awareness from Abroad"

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LoveReading Says

LoveReading Says

A foreign correspondent for over two decades, Michael Peel has had plenty of time to reflect on how Britain's belief in its own myths, supposed core values and wartime nostalgia has guided it through the best and worst of times. But is it real? Of course belief can be one person's reality but to others it can appear fake and flimsy. In What Everyone Knows About Britain, Peel squints at our country's self image and finds comparisons across the globe.

The results make for fascinating reading, and the British caricature is essentially debunked. This is unquestionably a political book, particularly as its timing coincides with an approaching general election and comes on the back of Brexit. Peel pulls no punches, characterising Truss and Johnson as 'Flawed Prophets'. He lays into our nation's citizenship exam. He points to the recent political experiences of former colonies such as Nigeria as they grapple to work with our 'exceptionalism'. He points out that many of our national icons - such as St George and our national drink of tea - are not really very British at all.

There is a shortage of perspective from close allies or hostile states - and so Europe, the US, China and Russia don't make much of an appearance. This is no doubt to do with the author's CV which suggests most of his time was spent in West Africa, the Middle East and South East Asia. So he is able to write with some authority, for example, when he finds parallels between anti-royal protests in Thailand and our own simmering arguments around our monarchy. In the conservative government's recent Rwanda policy he finds inevitable comparisons with Australia's failed project to deport immigrants to Cambodia.

There is no doubt that Britain has been a considerable influence upon the world, particularly in the context of Empire, and those shared behaviours have in some ways perpetuated longer elsewhere than they have here. What Everyone Knows About Britain highlights these echoes of culture, but what it also does is imply that believing our own hype, even when the hype has gone, will at some point likely lead to a comeuppance. Perhaps it already has.

It's a good book that is unlikely to change minds, which kind of proves its own point.

Greg Hackett

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