In the extremely English preface to this extremely English book, the author promptly admits that any single volume on so huge and so thoroughly scrutinized a subject as his is abound to be ""subjective and selective""; and then, as if to demonstrate it, he freely acknowledges his own limitations. But, he says, ""I do have one qualification: I am English."" He certainly is, and he's very complacent about it. From Chaucer to the present, he examines the traits and accomplishments of his people, with the main purpose of showing that nobody in his right mind, having any choice in the matter, would ever elect to be anything else. Other nations have their points, he forever seems to be saying, but of course none is so...well, decent and reasonable at the core. And he concludes, paraphrasing Lord Annan, that if the modern world needs ""'debarbarizing,"" the British are better equipped than most people to do it."" If the bluff amenities of such a sturdier-than-thou approach offend you, look forward to a deadly attack of anglophobia. But if you can sip your port sedately and puff your cigar like a gentleman, you will enjoy the plain talk, comfortable reminiscence, and the kind of straight-on understatement of fact that--unless your feet are planted as squarely as John Bull's--simply Bowles one over, don't you know.