everybody knows, so to speak, that the Brits have an edge in literature and non-fiction writing, but is it possible to quantify this edge? and does the UK, a nation of 63 million, really produce more and better material than the US, population 310 million and economy correspondingly 6x the size? I was thinking of scribbling out this screed on a Simon Winchester entry, but intellectual tasks happen when they do. we can't go around planning everything of course.
I guess in goodreads terms there is a way of comparing the two entities. we can start with military writing
UK: Max Hastings, Antony Beevor, David Stevenson
US: John Toland, Rick Atkinson
current/contemporary affairs; society and economics
UK: Niall Ferguson, Simon Winchester
US: Nicholas Taleb, Thomas Friedman
UK: [that US guy who moved to the UK]
US: Jon Krakauer, Sebastian Junger
UK: Pico Iyer, (Simon Winchester)
US: Jake Adelstein, Greenfeld et al.
advantage: US (Winchester already listed)
UK: Steven Pinker
US: Jared Diamond
advantage: dead heat
so 2.5 to 2.5, the UK and US are exactly neck-and-neck in terms of output of brilliant non-fiction writers, BUT, of course, the UK is a much smaller country. so this leads to the next question: why?
theory number one: island nation theory
according to this theory, if you live on a small island nation, you spend all your time looking at other people rather than looking at the outside world. hence, you develop a much more sophisticated understanding of human nature, and in fact, you might begin to conclude that human beings are evil whereas broad continental pioneer societies like to meet new personalities (who might be of advantage during an ice blizzard or something)
theory number two: racial superiority theory
the British consist of proper German stock (Angles, Sachsens) who were then conquered by, of all people, the French, and then had their bloodline horribly corrupted by French genes, with the result that the British have this nagging sense that their cuisine, fashion, and sculpture are all, somehow, flawed... this leads to a sense of alienation and creates superior writers.
theory number three: imperial history theory
Brits still control territory upon which the sun never sets
but other than this they have no designs on north american territory whereas the US is still engulfed with a nagging sense of desire to one day displace London's territorial control over its home islands. based on these different political ambitions, the British are spending more time writing books while the Americans are busy making money.
so there, I've outwritten Niall Ferguson. you don't even need to read his book. 4/5. not quite as good as Imperial, because he doesn't really get the US whereas in Imperial he's constantly making brilliant asides. now I'm going to go listen to Joy Division, the Cure, Morrissey, the Stone Roses, and some late Beatles. I am a punk rocker