This is not a fuzzy, warm, lighthearted recounting of the delightful ways, according to Terry Eagleton, that the United States and Britain are different. In Across the Pond: An Englishman’s View of America, we get roasted pretty harshly– ALOT. The book jacket even warns the reader–this book is a good old-fashioned roast. Well, to this reader, the observations seem downright mean at times. For example, when talking about the American penchant for excessiveness, he states “why settle for a steak as big as your fist, when you get one the size of Chris Christie?” (pg. 169) Talk about being excessive—that was a bit much for me. I understood the point, but I think it could have been made a bit more delicately. He also discusses how stereotypes must be disregarded, yet seems to increasingly buy into them every chapter.
It is also fairly “high brow,” as Eagleton assumes the reader is intimately familiar with varying philosophers and great thinkers, such as de Tocqueville. Eagleton is an intellectual and it shows in his writing style and opinions. I’m fairly educated, some might say over-educated (what with 2 Masters degrees) even, and very well read—but even I had trouble getting through this book. It was a slog fest and I must confess, had I checked this book out at work– it would have hit the check-in slot by the end of the first chapter.
This is not to say that the whole book is negative about America. Eagleton does praise some of our better virtues, but he does so in a backhanded kind of way. He giveth praise, and in the next sentence he taketh it away.
The point of view of this book is definitely told from a very dry British sense of humour, or as someone else commented with the very British ability to say something with “sugar-coated venom”. I could not recommend this book to anyone who doesn’t appreciate a good roasting and or who doesn’t have an open enough mind to appreciate that a European’s opinion about America differs greatly from our own. Eagleton has some valid points, but I just couldn’t connect with the book at all. Maybe I didn’t like the mirror Eagleton was holding up, showing a reflection I don’t want to see. Maybe, just this once, I failed to “get” British humour. Maybe it’s because I am an American, who is too moral, too idealistic, to excessive and too high-minded to see my own failings—but don’t worry, I am confident that Eagleton will be there to point them out!