About the Book
David’s always been one of my favourite comics. From Peep Show to Would I Lie to You?, his wit and wise words offer a laugh a minute.
This book is no different!
Although slightly dated, his carefully-crafted insights on the credit crunch, homosexuality and everything in between offer a wonderful glimpse of this man’s incredibly delightful mind.
Take it away Mark – sorry, I mean David!
- “I thought about [the financial crisis] a lot. Most people thought about it a lot. And thinking was what had precipitated the crisis in the first place. It wasn’t foolish and feverish speculative investments that caused the crash – it was thinking about those investments. It was realising they were foolish and ultimately valueless. As with Wile E., it was the realisation, not gravity, that made us plummet.” Introduction
- “Saying that things could be worse, and that they have been worse for the overwhelming majority of humans throughout the overwhelming majority of history, is not the same as complacent. It is stating an undeniable fact. It is retaining a sense of proportion. It should be reassuring, but at the moment many people hate to hear it. // This wilful loss of perspective – and this self-importance about our own times – means that we could do dangerous things… We’re thinking hard, casting around for solutions: a privatised NHS, an independent Scotland, pulling out the EU… We’re not ruling anything out – except being careful we don’t destroy something precious…” Introduction
- “The effect of these criticisms is corrosive. It means that people on TV, and appearing in public in general, will come to wear poppies primarily to avoid disapproval – in fact, they’re undoubtedly doing so already. Privately this may buy and wear poppies as an act of respect or resemblance, or they may not, but publicly they’ll just wear them for a quiet life. ‘Lest We Forget’ will be reduced to the level of remembering to check your flies are done up. That’s not a meaningful consensus any more – that’s just bland conformity.” Chapter 1: A Guide to Modern Hobbies
- “People say that we tend to read the books that impress or move us most before the age of 25. Not because we read less in later life but because we get too sophisticated to be so easily awestruck. Once you’ve read Great Expectations, anything you subsequently read would have to be even better than Great Expectations to impress you to the same extent as Great Expectations did – it would have to compensate for your greater expectations as a result of having read Great Expectations. That’s asking a lot of Nick Hornby.” Chapter 2: Something More Boring Instead
- “I don’t really think that these problems can be fixed. It’s the role of politicians to say that something must be done – with a sense of purpose if in power, and outrage if in opposition. But their jobs are too tenuous and short-lived, the international tax system too complex and the corporations too tenacious to stop this sort of thing happening. Loopholes will crop up by accident and, where they don’t, the intense and remorseless lobbying of the already astronomically wealthy will ensure that more are created. // We can work ourselves up in impotent fury or – and this is a calmer way to live – just sit back and enjoy the majesty of a terrible thing well done. Amazon’s tax and grant arrangements are the beautiful ivory candlestick outlined by the silhouettes of British taxpayers’ incredulous faces… As the mushroom cloud showed us decades ago, evil can be beautiful.” Chapter 3: Don’t Expect Too Much of Robots
- “Modern politicians don’t seem to do much – everything happens despite them, not because of them…” Chapter 4: Making No Difference
- “At the risk of sounding like those people who go on about how the Nazis had nice uniforms, it’s worth remembering that bad things often have good aspects to them… The good aspects don’t stop the things being bad. It’s vital to our understanding of a complex world, and to our intellectual dexterity, to be able to hold two different concepts in our heads at once without assuming that they’re mutually exclusive.” Chapter 4: Making No Difference
- “If you say it doesn’t matter how long something takes, then you’re not saying it’s important, you’re saying the opposite. Important things need to be done by a certain time. If there’s no particular time by which something needs to be completed, then the logical inference is that it never needs to be done at all.” Chapter 4: Making No Difference
- “The Financial Services Authority has finally offered its considered opinion that the collapse of RBS in 2008 was caused by ‘underlying deficiencies in RBS management, governance and culture, which made it prone to make poor decisions.’ It’s easy to take the piss out of this because it’s a bland statement of such a self-evident fact; but it’s like when a miss-hit at Wimbledon flies off into the crowd – a linesman still has to call ‘Out!’ when it finally hits the ground.” Chapter 5: It’s Not Just The Poets That Need Abstract Nouns
- “The question presupposes that everyone can work anywhere they can get a laptop Googling. I suppose they can, now that every job involves some variation on looking at a screen and clicking. The closest you can get to a manufacturing career nowadays is if you’re the one in a Starbucks who knows how to work the panini machine. There’s no man’s work any more. It’s all done by children in China.” Chapter 7: A Sorry State is Nothing to Be Sorry For
- “… any self-sacrifice feels to us westerners like tyranny. We’re not ready for it. Our evolution into apex individualists has superbly attuned us to injustices against us while atrophying our awareness of the vastly greater number that work in our favour.” Chapter 8: Some Things Stay the Same
What Others Are Saying
I enjoyed this a lot!
It’s taken me a while to finish because I’ve been dipping in and out, and in truth, I think that’s the best way. The stories are all taken from David’s regular Observer column so I don’t think it’s meant to be finished in one clean swoop.
Highly recommend, particularly if you like Mitchell’s characteristic dry wit!