This book almost gave me an aneurism. I mean…I don’t know that I’ve ever been so angry at the written word. Of course, I’ve never read an Ann Coulter book, but I imagine it would have the same effect. So why would an anglophile (like me) read this in the first place?
Well, I got it for free–reason one. But more importantly, I wanted to challenge myself to see a grittier, more realistic book about the UK and it’s imperial history, which is filled with just as much shameful activity as our own. I freely criticize the American government and our unsavory history, so I should be equally hard on the U.K. The book seemed like a good way to see things in a different light, and listen to the devil’s advocate. And maybe if the book was coherent or logical, it might have shifted my worldview instead of just making me incredibly angry.
Here’s the problem with this book. I’m not sure what it’s trying to be. Like a boggart who turns into half a slug, it seems to be pandering to two genres and failing at both. If it’s trying to be funny, it fails. I’m sure Rush Limbaugh thinks he’s funny, and people who think exactly like him perhaps agree. That’s the sort of “humor” this book is filled with. I wasn’t even tempted to laugh even once. Not even a smirk.
If it’s trying to be an honest book, it fails even harder. The worst thing you can do with a humor book is not be funny (check), but if you claim your book is in any way factual, you can apparently fill it with complete and utter lies and errors from cover to cover. You can spread absolute bullshit throughout, and you can also make me not want to live on this planet anymore. Well done Steven A Grasse.
I wrote notes on almost every page. Partially I was making notes for this review, so that I could point out all of the inaccuracies. But I also needed to vent some of my anger. Here’s a shot of one particularly offensive and ridiculous page.
Notice that I was particularly irritated by Grasse referring to corsets worn during the time of Shakespeare (1564-1616) as Victorian. For future reference, everyone, Victorian means it took place roughly during the time of the reign of Queen Victoria. Which was some 250 years after Shakespeare died. Presumably he meant Elizabethan, which is more correct. Grasse also goes on to explain that Americans would prefer a Tarantino film to the overrated works of the Bard ‘any day of the week’. At this point my head and desk made abrupt contact.
I found a blog dedicated to all of the inaccuracies of this book. The writer seems to have given up halfway through, and I can’t say I blame him or her. This book, once you comprehend just how racist and hate-filled it is, even as a joke, is hard to slog through. It’s a chore. It’s depressing. It makes me hate America and Americans. And I am one. It makes me ashamed of us. Can I say again how much I hate this book?
Back to the inaccuracies, because you need to comprehend just how bad it is. I made notes on almost every page with all of my thoughts on what was wrong about what he was saying–not theoretically or ideologically wrong, but factually wrong. The errors fell into a few categories:
In a chapter explaining how England created global warming, Grasse explains that England ‘designed’ the Industrial Revolution around engines that ran on coal, which ruined our atmosphere. He says they could have ‘just waited a few years until solar power hit the scene’. Were they supposed to jump in their coal-powered time machines so they would know that solar power was on the way? Also, whose to say we would have developed solar technology without the advancements that coal tech brought? I’m not a big fan of coal either, but it’s ridiculous to talk about it as if they could have known what would happen or would have stopped doing things like building railroads that brought fresh food to inland areas and allowed for quick transport throughout the country. We certainly haven’t stopped using coal or oil.
Apparently, England ‘Sliced North America Across the Middle’ and are standing in the way of an alliance between Canada and the US by making us dislike each other. I must have missed when this happened. Also, I apparently missed when Mexico ceased to exist, because Grasse doesn’t mention it as part of North America. Also, apparently, after we formed NAFTA, the Brits ‘formed their own special club–the European Union’. Wrong! NAFTA was signed in 1994. The EU started as the European Economic Community (EEC) after WWII ended (first six countries signed in 1957). Another problem is that the UK was not allowed in the first two times they applied (de Gaulle was a serious douche, in my opinion) and didn’t join until 1973. But even that was twenty years before NAFTA.
Apparently, ‘They Relish Collecting Taxes’ based on the evidence that William the Conqueror created the Domesday book to tax his citizens. Does Grasse know that William was French (Norman, technically)?
Grasse argues that the UK propagated the English measurement system which is, apparently, evil and is ruining the world. No explanation is provided for why we are one of the few countries that still use it. The UK does not use it anymore. Also, he blames the destruction of the Mars Climate Orbiter in 1998 on the UK because some parts were made with metric specs that should have used English measurements.
Grasse spends a page attacking the Rhodes Scholarship. For the record, Cecil Rhodes did some very evil stuff in the name of Queen and Empire. The fact that a few US citizens are paid to go to Oxford does not make up for that fact, but it might do something to mitigate it. It certainly isn’t a reason to attack England. Also, Grasse seems to be unaware or to ignore the fact that there are a few awards that try to make up for the misdeeds of their namesakes. Alfred Nobel, anyone? Part of his inspiration for creating his award was being described as ‘the merchant of death’ after he invented a kind of explosive and sold it to military organizations. Same thing. Where is Grasse’s book on the evils of Sweden?
Ridiculous factual errors:
Grasse has an entire chapter about how the Brits worship a ‘Giant Clock God’ as a symbol of state authority. He calls Big Ben the Great Clock and claims the British worship it as a symbol of the state authority over their lives. One problem. Big Ben is the bell, not the clock. Another problem, you make no sense, Grasse!
Grasse writes that the large stones in Stonehenge represent Scotland, England, and Wales while the small stones represent the rest of the world. These countries did not exist when Stonehenge was created, so I really have no idea where he got this crap.
Grasse writes about WWII that ‘We all know the stories of how the British joined the rest of the Allies to fight fascism abroad in the second World War.’ Grasse is implying that we (the US) were actually fighting the war already. This is utter bullshit. France and Britain declared war on Germany two days after the invasion of Poland in 1939. We didn’t enter the war until we were attacked at Pearl Harbor in 1941. Now, no one had declared war on Japan yet at that point, but we all declared it together as Allies. Britain and France had already suffered a ridiculous amount of casualties and damages in the fight against Germany, while we were trying to ignore what was going on. This really offends me that Grasse implies that Britain was reluctant to fight. He also claims Britain didn’t contribute as many soldiers to D-Day as we did, that they ‘didn’t do their share’. Nevermind that it was a U.S.-led effort and nevermind the fact that their forces were depleted by being in the combat much longer and being a much smaller country. By the way, our troops (my grandfather among them) comprised about 70,000 men and the UK had about 60,000 that day. Given the differences in population between the two countries I would say they did more than their share.
An apparently very different understanding of the word ‘evil’:
There are so many tiny things that apparently Grasse just doesn’t like that he seems to think are reasons that England is evil. Evil is a serious word. You cannot apply it to your dislike of Cricket or Elton John, Oasis or the inability to dance.
On top of all of these errors and this misinformation, there is a pro-Christian, pro-heterosexual vein of thinking that makes me rather ill. This is the real problem with the book. Even if none of what he is talking about is true, he is spilling hate-filled nonsense disguised as humor, and underneath it all is some really obvious intolerance and degradation of women, non-Christians, and homosexuals.
For example, one of the reasons England is evil is because ‘They Are Secretly Pagan’. Evidence?: Long after the Middle East was basking in the glow of sane monotheism, Druid priests led early Britons in pagan ceremonies. Another reason is because of ‘Harry Potter, Boy Occultist’.
There is a chapter entitled ‘British Men are a Little Limp in the Wrist, if you Get my Meaning’. Seriously. It starts with this ridiculous paragraph:
I have nothing against homosexuals, nor have I found homosexuality to be any more prevalent in the UK than it is anywhere else. I do, however, believe that upper class British males exhibit a peculiar chumminess and an aversion to hard work that could be characterized as, shall we say fey.
I see. Nothing against homosexuals, except they have an aversion to hard work. He goes on to blame the Stonewall riots in New York (in the 20th century) on Victorian laws against homosexual behavior. Huh? Sodomy was against the law (a felony, in fact) in the US until 1962, by the way.
I know that most of what is in this book is not intended to be taken seriously. But Grasse spent all of this time writing it down, and you don’t spend this much time writing and editing a book filled with stuff you don’t believe. I concede that he saved considerable time by not researching any of it or caring if his facts were even remotely correct. But still. He believes this deep down.
In the Introduction, Grasse more or less says that his inspiration for writing the book came from taking business trips to the UK and having people criticize the US to him. Not only did they have the nerve to criticize the Iraq War, but they didn’t want to talk about the movie he came to promote. How rude! So in a patriotic and egomaniacal temper tantrum, he wrote this book. Well, now I’ve read it, so you certainly don’t have to.
I’ll leave you with one critic’s take on the book: It’s “as if every bar bore in Philadelphia, where the author hails from, got together one night and wrote down every half-assed insult they could remember about Britain, somewhat handicapped by the fact that none did high school history past sixth grade.“