W.W. Norton, $24.95
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I’m not sure that Judith Martin admires the take-him-down-a-peg strain in the American character as much as I do, but she sure understands it. For me this attitude was best exemplified by a waitress in a Nevada truck stop. I told her I wanted a cheeseburger. "Do you always get what you want?" she replied.
There is something refreshingly egalitarian about such salty churlishness, and what Martin, a.k.a. Miss Manners, does here is explain that American manners (and yes, there is such a phenomenon) stem from a belief in equality that began with the founders.
Star-Spangled Manners is not a collection of Martin’s columns, which are syndicated in 200-plus newspapers, but rather a well-argued essay that identifies and describes a specifically American etiquette. It may be inflated to about twice its necessary length, but it’s relieved by her humor, which leans more to the clever mot than the down-home har-de-har-har.