17 April 2012

Book Review

Not with a Bang But a Whimper by Theodore Dalrymple

As in his other books, Dalrymple retains his droll, and slightly acerbic style, artfully piercing through all the dogma and nonsense that surrounds modern wisdom.  In this collection of essays, Dalrymple waxes eloquent about a seemingly disparate collection of topics, ranging from murder to literature to insane asylums.  At first blush, it does not seem as though there is an overarching theme to his book, but a thoughtful analysis of his writing would lead one to believe that Dalrymple is focused on how life is brutish, nasty, and short, and how these conditions are becoming more common as the ill-named progressives implement their deranged and contra-reality vision on the societies which they inhabit and, in a sense, rule.

Though Dalrymple appears at times to be detached from that which he writes about, he tends to approach his subjects with a sense of empathy, tenderness, and even occasionally passion.  He seems especially passionate about language, and brutally scorns those who claim that English is a living malleable language, used subjectively by its speakers.  He especially derides those who decry teaching the fundamentals of grammar on the grounds that doing so would be elitist.  The reason for his rage is somewhat personal, predicated on first-hand experience of watching those who wish to communicate deeper abstractions give up in frustration because they lack the vocabulary to do so.  In ceasing to require that people learn English and appreciate its masters (Shakespeare, Chaucer, and many others), the elites have effectively prevented people from making the most of life.  In a word, the elites have handicapped those whom they portend to help.

Dalrymple also waxes at length about education, particularly in how it has been dumbed-down, much to the dismay of teachers and the ruin of students.  Self-esteem is the highest measure of worth now, yet it is artificially contrived, built on happy talk instead of accomplishment.  Those who grew to age in such an environment are at a significant disadvantage because they cannot stand to be told that they have little to be proud of even though they must ultimately suspect that this is true.

Discussions of justice, law, and crime fill a good portion of the pages.  Dalrymple points out how crime has increased in England, and how Orwellian the government has become in covering up this fact.  Naturally, this does not bode well for the future.

Dalrymple also takes some time taking Tony Blair to task in a wonderful essay entitled “Delusions of Honesty.”  Conservative Americans that believe Blair was a good conservative PM would do well to read this essay and learn how corrupt, dishonest, and liberal Blair truly was.

The book closes with a heart-rending essay called “The Murderesses Tale.”  In it, Dalrymple tells the story of a girl born to a carousel-riding single mother.  The mother chased the abusive bad boys, gave birth to six children that she promptly neglected, and spent most of her time avoiding work and responsibility.  Her daughter, the one whom the story centers around, ended up being sexually molested by her older half-brother.  When she brought this to her mother’s attention, her mother kicked her out of the house.  When her mother came back to fetch her, she made her apologize to her brother for “telling tales.”  Eventually the girl managed to escape from her family by essentially enrolling herself in family services, wherein she met her lover—a thirteen-year-old girl.  The girl was eventually emancipated by the government at sixteen, and given her own apartment and stipend—at taxpayer expense, of course.  Her young lesbian lover was eventually able to escape and move in with her.  They spent most of their days drinking and smoking pot.  And then one day the two girls had a fight, and the older girl killed the younger girl.

Dalrymple was called in to analyze the young murderess, to see if she was in her right mind, and able to stand trial.  What he found disturbed him:  the young murderess was in her right mind.  He noted that she took responsibility for actions by admitting to them and expressing her profound regret for what happened.  Unlike many criminals, she did not blame anyone but herself for her predicament.  More strangely, she was finally making something of her life in prison:  she was taking classes to improve her English and mathematical abilities.  She was finally able to feel secure, for she finally had limits to her behavior.  Disturbingly, she was not able to be truly free until she was in prison.

Overall, the book is compelling, though rather depressing read.  One cannot help but to get the sense that a storm is brewing in the West, given the anecdotal evidence of serious social decline.  Though Dalrymple’s prose is delightful, it at times seems ill-suited for the dreary task at hand, which is declining the fall of the West.  It’s a must-read.


  1. Steve Nicoloso17 April, 2012 23:14

    Sounds like Dalrymple would have much in common with the irreplaceable Richard Mitchell...

    'Good grammar,' in the fullest sense of the term, is neither an embellishment nor an accessory to anything else. It is the Law by which meaning is found and made. It may be, of course, that a good 'education' ought to provide something more, but it is preposterous, perhaps even wicked, to suggest that it can be had with anything less.

    --Richard Mitchell, Why Good Grammar?

  2. Dalrymple is a treasure. I prefer him in small doses; his wit is delightful, but his subject is so... depressing.

    My favorite Dalrymple essay: the one where he realized that tattoo ink contains a virus that causes criminality.

  3. @Steve- Dalrymple said something quite similar in one essay. He might have been quoting Mitchell, but I'm can't be sure since I returned the book to the library.

    @T- That pretty much sums up my feelings toward him. His wit is tremendous, and his style is quite enjoyable, but his subjects leave a lot to be desired.