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on December 19, 2005
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? And is that granny with the AARP discount card going to throw a temper tantrum if she thinks that you think that she's over the age of 40?

Miss Manners argues convincingly here that America needs a basic, all-purpose, utilitarian set of behaviors so that people can go to the grocery store or otherwise live their private-public lives in America without offending the other people around them.

I also appreciated the time she spends convincing her readers that there's no such thing as an "etiquette-free" life among humans. Your (and your neighbor's) dress, speech, and actions will always be interpreted as meaning something. She makes a compelling argument that we should collectively give up this notion that body language should be ignored, as well as that misguided notion that carefully chosen clothing styles "to express who I am!" should never be counted against us.

(Apparently Miss Manners has had many letters cross her desk in which people complain that wearing "I'm a thief" clothing [or "I only care about sex" clothing, or "I sell drugs on the side" clothing, or "I'm dirty" clothing, or whatever] makes it harder for them to get hired into positions of trust, among other things.)

Quite a number of reviewers seem to have expected this book to be more like her "Perfect Weddings" or "Excruciatingly Correct Behavior," and it's quite different. This is not an advice book; it's a history and why-we-are-this-way book. It's therefore perfect for the social historian on your gift list, but otherwise you might want to Search Inside this book (tip: you can search on page numbers in most books) before you buy.
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on February 22, 2003
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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on December 6, 2002
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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on August 1, 2003
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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on June 15, 2016
This is another of Judith Martin's intelligent but humorous discussions of etiquette. She approaches the topic via history this time, and the result is informative and edifying. Perhaps there is slightly less humor than in some of her other books, but there were several lol spots for me, as well as innumerable smiles and snickers. Evident everywhere is the author's pride in the American manners she wishfully describes.
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on November 8, 2002
For the fans of Miss Manners, this is the one so long awaited. Instead of her typical format (q-&a, as seen in her columns,) this is the fruition of the ideas first presented in Common Courtesy. Rather than the how-tos of etiquette, she fully presents all the whys, whens and whats. An engaging combination of play, novel and history textbook, it's difficult to put down, while each paragraph could be digested three times over for the layers of meaning. It's exactly the little book one wants to leave about for others to infectiously read. No patriotic American can fail to lift his head up high after reading this. Unhitch the horses, boys, it's time to pull Miss Manners through the streets ourselves!
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on April 28, 2013
Miss Manners brings her good breeding and excellent good sense to American manners. And no, that is not an oxymoron, as Miss Manners clearly illustrates. Good humor coupled with good sense makes for an enjoyable trip through modern American etiquette. Highly recommended.
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on December 8, 2004
This is the best accounting of who we Americans are and why that is I've ever read. Considering the competition, that's saying something.

It's also the most entertaining. She has an ingenious thesis, a comprehensive knowledge base, and a wit sharper than Mark Twain's (That's also saying something.).

All this from, of all people, Miss Manners. Who knew?
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on November 19, 2013
You need this book. If you like your etiquette direction spiced with acerbic wit, this is the manual. Judith Martin tempers her advisories with common sense and just enough "Church Lady" snip to consistently amuse.
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on August 6, 2003
I was ready to love this book, as I have loved Judith Martin's other Miss Manners books. As I began reading, I expected to find the same combination of sophisticated social consciousness, wicked yet gentle wit, and sparkling prose that make her other books so wonderful. But, alas, it seems even Miss Manners has to lay an egg once in a while. This book was not a bit funny; In fact, it seemed almost mean-spirited and sarcastic at times. It isn't quite rude, of course, but just the same, it lacks the lively spirit of cheerful helpfulness, and the brilliant intellect, that is present in her other books. Sorry, Ms. Martin.
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