This Little Britain

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 01 November, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 01 November, 2009, 12:00am

This Little Britain
by Harry Bingham
Fourth Estate

The modern world, Harry Bingham points out, has been more deeply shaped by Britain than by any other country. In This Little Britain, he runs through the many things Britons did first, best, most, or were the only ones to do, in the process writing a biography of the country variously called Great Britain, the British Isles, the United Kingdom and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Island. Britons lacking in confidence about their national identity will find much within the covers to encourage their shoulders to broaden. Bingham reminds readers of Britain's many contributions, which range from inventing baseball and the rule of law to producing Shakespeare. Then there is its language, English, which is the world's richest tongue, albeit with some eccentric spellings. Fish, as George Bernard Shaw pointed out, could be written ghoti (with the gh pronounced 'f' as in rough, the o pronounced 'i' as in women and the ti as 'sh', as in nation). The book also looks at warfare, science, technology, economy, empire and lifestyle. One thing that grates, however, is Bingham's use of 'we'. Rather than 'For we British', surely it should be 'For us'?