AN AMERICAN LOOKS AT BRITAIN by Richard Critchfield

AN AMERICAN LOOKS AT BRITAIN

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KIRKUS REVIEW

An expansion of a 1987 Economist article, this is a disappointing melange of thorough research yet derivative, blandly presented observations about contemporary Great Britain and its postimperial malaise. According to Critchfield (the brooding family history Those Days, 1986), Britain's long decline is due to cultural and class divisions that have perpetuated the rule of the ""Oxbridge elite"" and discouraged the lower classes. Critchfield sees a resulting drop in ""emotional authenticity"" in nearly all the areas he surveys here--religion, education, health, housing, the gloomy ""chattering class"" of intellectuals, rising crime, the sharp divide between the prosperous South and the depressed North. Even ""the Mrs. Thatcher Phenomenon,"" he believes, despite seeming economic gains, has not arrested the long slide, because the Prime Minister will not ""go after the class system root and branch"" by spending on schools, science, and industry. Critchfield's account suffers, however, because most of his nearly 300 interviews were conducted with members of this elite (including James Callaghan, David Owen, Dame Peggy Ashcroft, Norman Tebbit, John Fowles, and Jeremy Irons) at the expense of ordinary people who could have added perspective and color to his portrait. He provides a wealth of detail, but adds little that an American moderately well-read in international affairs can't glean elsewhere. Moreover, it is annoying that this journalist interjects himself so often into his story, and that he devotes an entire chapter to children's classics but little to the press. in short, despite the impressive journalistic legwork, these are unoriginal conclusions couched in pedestrian prose, leaving the reader hungry for more trenchant accounts of Britain and its decline, such as Paul Theroux's The Kingdom by the Sea and Paul Kennedy's The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1990
Publisher: Doubleday