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Audiobook Review - Chums: How a Tiny Caste of Oxford Tories Took Over the UK


Chums: How a Tiny Caste of Oxford Tories Took Over the UK by Simon Kuper

Chums takes us inside the UK power structure by focusing on the college stories of the small pool of people who are now leading the UK. The pool in question are all graduates of Oxford. Graduates of Oxford have made up a preponderance of the recent political leadership in the UK.

 The author, Simon Kuper, also attended Oxford and was a student there at the same time (or near the same time) as such names as Rishi Sunak, Boris Johnson and Theresa May (the current and past two UK Prime Ministers).

I was struck by several things in this book. First, and most obvious, is the appalling lack of seriousness of the education that these folks actually got from their time at Oxford. Kuper relates that bluster and the ability to think on one's feet (aka make things up) was esteemed more highly by professors than a student actually learning anything. Toward the end of the book Kuper attempts to make the case that things have changed at Oxford, and I certainly hope they have. In the meantime the UK seems to be stuck with leaders who don't actually know much. (Given the recent leadership of the US I empathize, but here we seem to be on a better course now).

Second was how class continues to play a key role in UK society. While we have our own social stratifications in the US (mostly based on how much money you have), I'm grateful we don't have the British class system. 

Third was how all these leaders graduated from a single university. That makes the UK seem very small. Kuper himself makes that point, comparing the leadership in the UK to the US with its "multiple power centers".

There's also a fair bit about Brexit in the book and discussion of the origins of the organized efforts that led to it, some of which sprang from - you guessed it - Oxford graduates.

The book is a quick read (or a quick listen in my case).  A good book for those interested in the UK, UK politics (or politics in general), Brexit or maybe just the dissolution of Empire. 

RATING: Three Stars ⭐⭐⭐

NOTE: The audiobook version doesn't actually seem to be available for purchase in the US right now (I'm in Australia for an extended visit and picked up the audiobook here). However, the ebook and hardcover editions are available. 

NOTE 2: I just read this Guardian piece that the author linked on his twitter feed, and it provides a sense of urgency and seriousness to the issues raised in this book that I didn't get from the book itself.  Worth a read: Guardian: Britain’s posh cliques

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Title: Chums: How a Tiny Caste of Oxford Tories Took Over the UK

Author: Simon Kuper

Publisher: Profile Books

Publish Date: November 1, 2022

ISBN-13: 9781004102556

Publisher’s List Price: N/A (pricing available for libraries with an account w/ the publisher)