Tuesday, October 05, 2004


Books for the Season

At this late juncture I’ve read all or most of some 40 books on the current state of crisis in the U.S. government, so I thought I'd recommend a few. First of all, the basic primer of mainstream objections to Bush, a simple and very easy-to-read summation, can be found in Bush Must Go: The Top Ten Reasons Why George Bush Doesn’t Deserve A Second Term by Bill Press. It’s the one to give to friends who you fear might be waffling but who don’t have the patience for books that are more scholarly and dense. Speaking of scholarly and dense, those sympathetic to my outlook will find Mark Crispin Miller’s Cruel and Unusual to be excellent. I find Miller much to my taste, since he’s a media analyst and is well used to decoding actual evidence (great writer, too, and unapologetically fierce). John Dean’s Worse than Watergate chronicles the secrecy of Bush and Cheney and compares them to those of his former boss Richard Nixon. British and other foreign readers unsympathetic to current U.S. policy should find Nicholas von Hoffman’s Hoax and Hendrik Hertzberg’s Politics endlessly fascinating. (Rick Hertzberg’s my man—his “Talk of the Town” pieces in The New Yorker magazine often give voice to my inarticulate frustrations.) One of the more interesting of the recent titles is Thomas Frank’s What’s the Matter with Kansas?, which analyzes how the Republicans have won the heartland despite the fact that their policies are often antithetical to the interests of its population.

The books of the era likely to become canonical are Ron Suskind’s The Price of Loyalty, Kevin Phillips’ American Dynasty, Paul Krugman’s The Great Unraveling, Craig Unger’s House of Bush, House of Saud, and of course Richard Clarke’s Against All Enemies, which everyone of any political persuasion who wants to be informed about current events simply must read. (I think it goes well with Scott Ritter’s Frontier Justice, but that’s just me.)

All Americans ought to read (or re-read, or re-re-read) the U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, Tom Paine’s Common Sense and The Rights of Man, Graham Greene’s The Quiet American, Henry David Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience, and of course George Orwell’s startlingly pertinent 1984.

Conservatives might want to check out Pat Buchanan’s latest book. I haven’t read it yet. Democrats will want to seek out Sen. Robert Byrd’s latest. I haven’t read that one yet either, though I’m eager to.

Finally, I cannot say enough about the remarkable new book from Garrison Keillor (of Lake Woebegone and “Prairie Home Companion” fame), Homegrown Democrat. It’s a moving literary masterpiece, destined, I think, to be an American classic—if America survives in its present form, of course. You can sample the first four chapters on the Prairie Home Companion website. Since it’s definitely written “in” Keillor’s well-known voice, try the audio version! A wondering, eloquent, touching, large-hearted book.

© 2004 by Michael C. Johnston
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