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Star-Spangled Manners: In Which Miss Manners Defends American Etiquette (For a Change) Paperback – November 17, 2003

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Martin, aka bestselling author and columnist Miss Manners, has a vision for Americans as saviors of the civilized world. Her argument is based on two notions: first, that American manners are bad, and second, that because the United States is a nation of immigrants who share "the desire to be treated fairly, the imagination to sketch a new life, and the determination to pursue it," Americans are uniquely positioned to improve their manners and create an etiquette system that could serve as a model for the international community. Martin acknowledges that not all citizens will acquiesce to this new and improved etiquette, but she has a suggestion for how to handle that; we must discourage bullying and bashing through the simple exercise of social disapproval and exclusion. In support of her thesis, Martin provides a history of American manners, from the founding fathers, who first envisioned an "etiquette of equality," through the present day, when "equality" is often misused and greed and selfishness reign. But the original principle of equality stands, says Martin, an astute observer of social customs and manners who cares deeply about the instability of tradition and rituals, a shift in emphasis from the family to the individual and the tendency to value frankness above tact. But she heaps one observation on top of another without ever quite pulling together the pieces, and the details of how this new etiquette is to be developed are painfully glossed over for an issue so central to our national (and international) well-being.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

A history of American manners, from the moment we threw off European etiquette and took the straight and simple way.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (November 17, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393325016
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393325010
  • Product Dimensions: 0.6 x 0.1 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,413,936 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

3.5 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 22 people found the following review helpful By amazon3131 on December 19, 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Do you ever wonder whether Miss Manners gets tired of saying the same things over and over and over again?

Just how many times do you suppose she can tell people that it's tacky to demand money from guests, or that you really do need to write an actual letter of appreciation to people (called "hosts") who save you the expense of meals and hotel accomodations when visiting, or that there is no polite way to do something which everyone agrees is rude and which the Gentle Reader specifically intends as an insult?

This book is what Miss Manners wrote when she was tired of making the same announcements over and over and over again. It's NOT a collection of her newspaper columns. It's a history of manners in America.

I have read the entire thing and am thrilled with it. It's funny, but not laugh-out-loud funny. The part of the Gentle Readers is played by the occasional historical characters, who aren't so much writing letters to Miss Manners as writing letters to each other, or getting themselves written up in newspaper accounts, and then leaving these reports carelessly lying around for posterity (us) to read decades and centuries later.

What I liked best about this book was that it made me think about why our approach to teaching "multiculturalism" in public schools hasn't lived up to its promise of better inter-cultural understanding. We teach the trappings -- the secular and religious holidays like Cinco de Mayo or Eid al-Fitr, and occasionally a bit of geography, history, and costuming -- but we ignore the importance of everyday behaviors: Is it rude to look a person in the eye? Is it rude not to? Is it okay to wear short shorts to a funeral?
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful By D. Rizzo on February 22, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I really love Miss Manners and am a huge fan of her other books. However, as much as I support the basic truisms of what she says in her latest, I can't say that I enjoyed it all that much.
The clue is that I got it two months ago, and I still haven't bothered to finish it.
Miss Manners's previous books were written in a charming half-narrative and half-column style, allowing her to address her readers' concerns and to comment on them concurrently. This book discards readers' letters in lieu of uninterrupted narration. While she retains her whimsical and vaguely remonstrative tone, her characteristically lighthearted approach with this historically intriguing interpretation of American manners feels more like listening, under duress, to inane chitchat for hours and hours.
The conradiction is that what she has to say ISN'T small talk... but with that ongoing, constant, uninterrupted tone and whimsy, it's easy to stop paying attention.
After some of our country's recent tragedies, there has been a resurrection of American pride. Perhaps that resurrection is what inspired Miss Manners to support of her country and its culture by chronicling the evolution and justifications for the American lifestyle. She delineates a sound historical diatribe. Somehow, the "Miss Manners" persona to this particular chronicle doesn't jibe, in my opinion.
I wish, almost, that Judith Martin wrote this book AS Judith Martin, and that "Miss Manners" had less to do with it. A more-serious approach -- not one without ANY humor or lightheartedness, but one with the dignity of her goal -- might have suited this subject better and allowed me to remain engaged long enough to actually finish those last two chapters.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By erica on August 1, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Miss Manners' discussion of American etiquette - by which she means everything from the way we dress and talk and wed to the way we see the world and our place in it - should have been so much better than this. It's certainly ambitious enough, tackling as it does a swath of American culture wide enough to encompass colonial history as well as the modern entertainment industry. Its thesis - that American etiquette, with its emphasis on simplicity and equality, has transformed the world for the better and could continue to do so if it were not hindered by our fascination with show business and popularity and our modern discounting of the communal and familial in favor of the individual - is compelling and well-tuned to the advice Miss Manners gives in her columns.
But something is off about this book. Miss Manners' trademark acerbic tone is replaced by a more serious tenor, perhaps to advance these more serious ideas. The change is not a positive one, as it robs the material of needed zest. Worse, the text is unorganized and often confusing to read. Chapters are quite long, and are divided into page-long sections that often seem unrelated. The book takes no clear trajectory; instead, it constantly jumps around. Its end does not seem like a conclusion, but just the place where Miss Manners grew tired of penning an increasingly unwieldy, uninspiring manuscript and turned her quick wit and intelligent ideas to worthier prospects.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Karen Sampson Hudson on December 6, 2002
Format: Hardcover
The delightful Miss Manners, Judith Martin, delivers another highly entertaining, slyly witty book which combines present-day etiquette dilemmas with a history of American etiquette and sociological commentary on "re-inventing ourselves".
The book reads easily, but don't be deceived into speeding through. Each articulately written paragraph can be savored and will be food for thought.
Martin's historical perspective may open your eyes to such observations as that of Charles Dickens, who noted that southern ladies spoke like their black nurses. Martin notes that the slaves may have been well-mannered aristocrats in their own African societies, while the plantation owners may have come from lowly origins.
She also writes of the task the Founding Fathers undertook: In setting up a new, democratic nation, of necessity they had to set up a new system of etiquette, one suited for a nation of equals. American etiquette is still evolving, as we live in a nation where every person is free to "make something of oneself",
instead of being locked into a stagnant system of codes and behavior related to rigid economic class. American virtues, like enterprise, frankness, and friendliness, sometimes can present challenges to the polite restraint necessary to civilized behavior. Even the essential ideas of etiquette--being thoughtful of others and according them respect---can require careful calibration in such matters as being asked to buy an item you don't want just because a friend's child is selling it to benefit an organization.
Kudoes to Judith Martin for another enlightening and fascinating book! Highly recommended.
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