Embittered albeit bemused finger-wagging appears to be author Lynne Truss' specialty, and I have to say I find her newest little tome on the global lack of respect and good manners even more cutting than her bad grammar colonic, Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation. Both books reflect her British sense of civility with lacerating wit and shrewd observation, but this one feels more like a rant than a how-to manual on how to improve upon such social breeches. However, she does a clear-eyed job in analyzing the origins of such barbaric behavior.
In her previous book, Truss saw the decline of punctuation as indicative of the increasing spread of illiteracy. Here she suggests that the collapse of manners is the tip of what she calls a "social immorality iceberg", i.e., a decreasing competency in building community and using manners as a sign of mutual respect. In fact, there will definitely many who view her definition of what used to be considered basic good manners as elitist. For example, she may be a member of a shrinking populace who bristle when there is the absence of a simple "Thank you," and "You're welcome" when a door is held open. I happen to be in her camp, so I am quite amenable to her observations. Inevitably, there will be the impolite thinkers who demand quantitative data to back up her arguments. However, because so little data is available on long-term trends, Truss doesn't bother with statistics, and instead devotes six short chapters to examples of how behavior that was unthinkable a generation ago has become normal.
The weakness of the book is that she offers no actionable solutions. Her examples are entertaining but beyond hoping that someone will recognize the problem, she doesn't anticipate that things will improve. In fact, it seems like a missed opportunity to lay out a plan for how people really ought to behave in social situations with tangible steps for her readers (or more appropriately, the rude friends of her readers) to follow. Her reason for this omission is that she doesn't want to be held up to such constant scrutiny which seems like an unnecessary concession. Yet, Truss's concern for the morality of our everyday interactions is thorough and affecting, and to her credit, she never tries to simplify the subject given its political and moral dimensions. She celebrates intolerance and does attempt to set out a manifesto toward the end of the book. Just like the basis of the rising Labor movement in her homeland, Truss believes that manners are connected to the common good, and I have to agree that acts of kindness ennoble the world in which we live.