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Notes From a Small Island: An Affectionate Portrait of Britain

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NOTES FROM A SMALL ISLAND: AN AFFECTIONATE PORTRAIT OF BRITAIN Bill Bryson (Morrow, $25) Point the finger at Alexis de Tocqueville — the Frenchman who recorded his observations of American politics and social customs circa 1832 — as the bloke who kicked off the tradition of trying to make sense of foreign cultures. And so it continues today: Paul Theroux on Micronesia, Peter Mayle on Provence, P.J. O’Rourke on just about anywhere. The quest for cultural clarity continues with Bill Bryson…this time on Britain. Spicy Indian food, the snobbishness of Oxford, and Liverpool’s gritty maritime past all come under the avuncular scrutiny of Yankee transplant and utility journalist Bill Bryson. However, the Brits are not the Masai. You can pick up most of what’s contained in these 300-odd pages in a four-hour layover at Heathrow. Ultimately, Bryson and his Notes From a Small Island: An Affectionate Portrait of Britain seem quite a lot like England itself: polite, unobtrusive, often charming, and quite easy to overlook. B-