Saturday, May 16, 2009

Amazing, Americans are human

Well, in a manner of speaking. They are not that different from Europeans, whoever Europeans might be. Actually, this article in Prospect by Peter Baldwin, professor of history at University College of California, Los Angeles, is considerably better than so many on the subject.

Professor Baldwin seems to acknowledge that Europe is actually quite varied, though he appears to be a little surprised by that and he does not go too closely into how those divisions have appeared in history or appear now.

Nor does he bother too much with divisions in America. How does that high infant mortality pan out? Do we know? Nothing is more infuriating than being told a fact that is supposed to be important but is actually meaningless. Oh, and I assume he is being ironic when he lists President Bush's "sins".

But the piece is worth reading. It seems Americans are actually human. And well-read. This is my favourite paragraph because it confirms something many of us have noticed about America and has a go at that super-intellectual ditzhead, Simone de Beauvoir:
Simone de Beauvoir was convinced that Americans do not need to read because they do not think. Thinking is hard to quantify; reading less so. And Americans, it turns out, do read. The percentage of illiterate Americans is average by European standards. There are more newspapers per head in the US than anywhere in Europe outside Scandinavia, Switzerland and Luxembourg. The long tradition of well-funded public libraries in the US means that the average American reader is better supplied with library books than his peers in Germany, Britain, France, Holland, Austria and all the Mediterranean nations. They also make better use of these public library books than most Europeans. The average American borrowed more library books in 2001 than their peers in Germany, Austria, Norway, Ireland, Luxembourg, France and throughout the Mediterranean. Not content with borrowing, Americans also buy more books per head than any Europeans for whom we have numbers. And they write more books per capita than most Europeans too.
I must stop making assumptions about Californian academics.


  1. " It seems Americans are actually human. And well-read"All my neighbours are, when I'm here in the USA, and are very well read, informed and politically active; so different to my UK experience. Of course the USA is huge and there are great variances across the country. I can only say that our local library is wonderful, well stocked, well used and I can take out 40 books at a time (if I wanted to or if I could carry them!). It might have something to do with the library being funded on previous usage.

  2. They do, however, start sentences with "And". Some assumptions about Californian academics should be allowed.

  3. My local Library is a pile of shit and filled with pulp fiction and discredited sociology texts and works by David Irving.