Essay tackles behavior

WOULD IT KILL YOU TO STOP DOING THAT? By Henry Alford. Twelve Publishing. 231 pages. $25.

Henry Alford's charming essay on manners takes us on a journey from Tokyo (“the Fort Knox Reserve” of good manners) to New York City (where “people really know how to spit”), and from the Middle Ages to the present.

Along the way, Alford, a National Public Radio commentator and magazine writer, brings us a kaleidoscope of viewpoints from etiquette authorities, both likely and unlikely.

Alford talks with parents, the original manners experts, who must explain to their children “the intricacies of how to behave (after getting them) to understand that there is a way to behave.”

He talks with an Army sergeant who responds adroitly to questions about body counts by assuring questioners that “I didn't kill anyone that didn't deserve it, but I'm willing to adjust my philosophy if they're willing to help me test it.”

And he shows the venerable Judith Martin, aka Miss Manners, how to hail a taxi in New York. “Wow,” she says, “you really do have a technique.”

And so he does. “Would It Kill You?” is a delightful puff pastry of an essay. Enjoy.