by Ian Jack.
Fantasic collection of recollections.
There was never any chance that I wasn't going to love this book. I've been a big fan of Ian Jack's writing ever since I began reading his thoughful introductions to Granta, which he edited for 48 editions, and his occasional Guardian pieces, which I subscribe to on my RSS reader to make sure I don't miss any.
Jack's essays are characterised by a clear, no-frills writing style, which frequently conceals meticulous underlying research. They are often highly nostalgic and personal, but never lapse into sentimentality. Jack enjoys reminscing, but he never looks back through rose-tinted glasses. As he explains in his introduction, there certainly seems to be an underlying theme to this collection of essays, even though he didn't realise it as he wrote them.
The essays themselves range in size from two or three pages (the most common format—and, for what it's worth, my favourite) to far longer pieces on what were, for me, rather obscure but, it turned out, surprisingly interesting topics, such as the Hatfield rail crash and the singer Kathleen Ferrier. It was one of those books that I didn't want to end: real page-turning stuff.
If I have one minor complaint about the book, it's the title: The Country Formerly Known as Great Britain sounds pretty negative, as if the author is about to launch into a tirade about how the country has gone to the dogs—although Jack isn't saying that at all.
Other than that, fantastic!