Matt Frei (Harper Perennial)

So, you watched Barack Obama’s inauguration and wondered what the hell all that was about?

Matt Frei, the BBC’s correspondent in Washington DC, has witnessed the machinations of American power first-hand and is ideally placed to shed light on how things work.

Covering everything from politics and religion to class, race and the weather, Frei’s book is aptly titled, as it really does reveal Americans in all their glorious eccentricity.

For instance, Frei discovers Las Vegas, “sin city itself”, to be a hotbed of burgeoning religiosity and that Yanks will happily “shop around” for the right faith, as they would a used car.

Equally fascinating is his examination of why Americans are violently allergic to paying tax (even if it results in a basic level of health care for the poor) but will practically do the limbo to raise millions of cash for charity.

Obama certainly has his work cut out for him. ALISON GRINTER