Greater Than the Sum of Our Parts

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Archive for March 2011

Review: An Utterly Exasperated History of Britain by John O’Farrell

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Or, to give it its full and wonderfully unwieldy title, An Utterly Exasperated History of Modern Britain: or Sixty Years of Making the Same Stupid Mistakes as Always. The sequel to the equally unwieldy An Utterly Impartial History of Britain: (or 2000 Years Of Upper Class Idiots In Charge), this employs the familiar facetious tone and modern angle on recent history that O’Farrell previously used in summarising vast swathes of British History until the end of WW2.

Image of the cover of the book

Once again, O’Farrell abandons the “people were different in the past and everyone knows that” starting place of drier history books and adopts a childish, irony-heavy, almost Carry-On approach to the past, littered with modern references and elbow-nudges designed to link the situations in years past with the current world via humour. It is childish, quite frequently, but the silliness is part of its (very British) charm.

There is one area, which O’Farrell notes in his introduction, in which Utterly Exasperated differs stylistically from Utterly Impartial; the clue is in the title. Most of the events – or certainly, a sizeable portion of the book – take place within the author’s lifetime, and he can hardly be expected to be as without opinion on them as he might have been about the antics of William the Bastard. Heavy hints are dropped in the introduction – along the lines of “yay, Nye Bevan” and “Boo, Thatcher”, rather less hints than outright flagwaving – of his bias, but as it’s a bias I agree with (having grown up in the 80s in a single-parent, unemployed family and therefore been one of Thatcher’s bete noirs I am more than comfortable with loathing almost everything she did) .

As this book is covering a mere 60 years, rather than roughly 2000, in the same number of pages, there’s a lot more detail on individual events and figures than in the prequel. It is also, I’ve discovered, a lot easier to find oneself moved by the  idiocy of one’s government when their pettiness, sloth, cowardice, or incompetence, and their general scrabbling efforts to stay in power at the expense of the well-being of the country (or to pander to their pet discredited theories at the expense of the country) is still having palpable effects now.

Moreso than Impartial, Exasperated is a political history. It discusses technological developments, but the majority of the book is given over to the circumstances and consequences of political decisions and the way in which various elements of life in the country were (and continue to be) affected by the most unexpected combinations of forces. Entire weapons programmes were drawn up because someone was once rude to the Foreign Office, and whole industries razed because someone got some ridiculous idea into their head and didn’t want to be seen to back down.

As a catalogue of human failings in Britain from 1945 to roughly 2009, An Utterly Exasperated History of Britain is quite depressing and angering; that it succeeds in being funny at the same time is a credit to the author.

However, I would recommend this book not to those who are already well-versed in modern British history, but rather to those who, like me, either opted to take Geography instead or who just weren’t paying attention in school, as it is – sneakily, facetiously, and surprisingly – very informative for the “layperson” (where layperson = “I spent my history classes lobbing pens at Jimbo”).

An Utterly Exasperated History of Britain by John O’Farrell generally retails for about £7.99

Post by Delilah


Written by Amelia &/or Delilah

March 30, 2011 at 2:11 pm

it has been a week of shameless self-indulgence

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Quick updates: I am very excited about this, and also this. Pokemon: Black was very good but is it just me or does each generation get progressively easier?

And also I suppose I should tell you, since Del mentioned it… the first ever Roller Derby World Cup is happening in Toronto this year. Fourteen countries are fielding teams. I am going to be there in my capacity as… the manager of Team Australia. 


Someone saw fit to give me a position of responsibility.

I’m shocked too.

We’re working on getting Team Australia corporate sponsorship (and a better name,) and we hope to hold tryouts throughout May in various state capitals. So if anyone’s reading this and interested, keep an eye out–I’ll be posting details here at some point, even if it’s just to bitch about how many flights I have to take (my fellow team staff are based in NSW.)

So, err, yeah, that’s my big news xD If anyone has suggestions for a title that’s somewhat cooler than “manager/bench coach” then please do pass them along!

Written by Amelia &/or Delilah

March 17, 2011 at 12:55 pm

Posted in Posts by Amelia

A Brief Heads-up

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For information regarding the publication of books there is now my GoodReads Author Profile, and I am also vaguely maintaining a sound engineering blog/reminder site at soundslikeariot. Recently I’ve been to see Emmy the Great play at the Purcell Room in the South Bank Centre (and been impressed by the acoustic engineering of the room as well as by the excellent and moving performance), finished reading The Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall with mixed feelings, finished reading Caravaggio: Painter of Miracles by Francince Prose with glowing ones, and started reading An Utterly Exasperated History of Britain; or 60 years of Making the Same Stupid Mistakes as Always by John O’Farrell with high expectations. What I have not done recently is written any reviews, sorry about that, please feel free to blame a mind-devouring college project. In the meantime, Melanie Clegg has been kind enough to namecheck me in her post on Kindle Publishing over at

Amelia meanwhile has some extremely good news to share, but I don’t want to steal her thunder so you’ll get that from the horse’s mouth, when someone’s managed to stop her playing Pokemon: Black and squeaking in bat-bothering frequencies about the new George RR Martin book finally having a release date.

Post by Delilah.

Written by Amelia &/or Delilah

March 15, 2011 at 2:03 pm