“100 PEOPLE WHO ARE SCREWING UP AMERICA (AND AL FRANKEN IS #37)” by Bernard Goldberg (HarperCollins, $25.95)
This is an amusing little book but it seems to be missing pages. Many of the people I would have chosen for my short list of national screw-ups are strangely absent in Mr. Goldberg’s latest literary rant. For example, why didn’t the author include such obvious candidates as Karl Rove, the Rasputin of the Bush administration; Dick Cheney, the vice president who always seems to be missing in action during times of national disasters; Ann Coulter, the high priestess of hate; or Pat Robertson, the religious wingnut who recently called for the assassination of the duly elected president of a South American country?
Goldberg does, however, round up the usual suspects, and no surprise here, most of the people who made his list have liberal bents. Barbra Streisand, Bill Moyers, Phil Donahue and Tim Robbins are all trotted out for their public spankings, along with Oliver Stone, Harry Belafonte, and Courtney Love. Love is dismissed with a single word: “ho.” Former Tucson writer Barbara Kingsolver made the list based on the contents of a single op-ed piece.
Who is the No. 1 person screwing up America? Not Kenneth Lay, who bankrupted one of America’s biggest companies, or David Duke of KKK fame, or even Bill Clinton, who has been blamed for every calamity since Noah’s flood. No, it’s – quick, hide your children – filmmaker Michael Moore.
Like Richard Nixon’s infamous “enemies list” of the 1960s, Goldberg makes it perfectly clear that he did not base his list on a poll. It’s personal. Very personal.
“THE TRUTH ABOUT HILLARY: WHAT SHE KNEW, WHEN SHE KNEW IT, AND HOW FAR SHE’LL GO TO BECOME PRESIDENT” by Edward Klein (Sentinel/Penguin, $24.95)
Let me make several things perfectly clear. I am not particularly fond of Hillary Clinton and probably would not support her in a national campaign. Edward Klein’s latest book about Clinton is hardly “fair and balanced,” but rather more hatchet job than biography.
Even before the book was available for sale, juicy tidbits were leaked as professional Clinton haters licked their chops in wild anticipation. What was delivered, however, was not a feast but rather a rancid, stomach-wrenching dish of sloppy research and nasty personal attacks. This book is the literary equivalent of a backed-up septic tank.
Klein could have written a book that raised legitimate issues and concerns about Clinton but, instead, he chose to take the low road as he shepherds readers down a roadway littered by previously published materials, most of it suspect or flat out wrong. No insult is too petty to trot out. When all else fails, Klein attacks Clinton’s physical appearance. Is the senator’s philosophy more important than what the author’s perceives as her ample hips? Klein draws conclusions that reflect his partisan bent. Case in point, when Hillary was in college she had a friend who was a lesbian. The author gleefully concludes this means Hillary is probably a lesbian, too. The Vince Foster suicide is rehashed as Klein hides behind words such as “allegedly” and “apparent.”
As an old commercial parroted a number of years ago, “Where’s the beef?” Certainly not in this unsavory jumble.
Recommended new titles
Books about sore winners, dark humor American-style, a rainmaker in San Diego, and shady dealings on Wall Street top this week’s list.
“WIZARD OF SUN CITY” by Garry Jenkins (Thunder’s Mouth, $24)
In 1916, eccentric rainmaker Charles Hatfield mixed 27 chemicals and then burned his concoction atop several towers near San Diego. Almost immediately, rains followed, triggering massive flooding that caused more than 20 deaths and $4 million in damages. Did Hatfield cause the rainfall or was he just a clever con man? This fascinating new book tells the largely forgotten story of America’s most celebrated rainmaker, a man who was, perhaps, a little too good at his job.
“THE TATTOO ARTIST” by Jill Ciment (Pantheon, $23)
Just before the outbreak of World War II, Sara Ehrenreich and her husband, Philip, decide to leave New York for the South Pacific in search of native art. They become marooned on the island of Tu’un’uu and are captured by natives, who forcibly tattoo the couple’s faces. Jill Ciment has created a beautifully written novel that features gorgeous prose and richly drawn characters.
“THE KNIFE MAN” by Wendy Moore (Broadway Books, $26)
John Hunter was a maverick surgeon in Georgian England who almost single-handedly turned medical research on its head when he began dissecting hundreds of corpses in his search to determine the workings of the human body. His work ultimately allowed him to redefine surgery and move it into the dawn of modern medicine.
“LAST CHANCE IN TEXAS: THE REDEMPTION OF CRIMINAL YOUTH” by John Hubner (Random House, $25.95)
Is it possible that a state such as Texas, famed for its hard-core attitude toward crime and punishment, could be leading the way in the rehabilitation of violent and troubled youth? Journalist John Hubner had several months of unprecedented access to the Gibbons State School that houses “the worst of the worst,” more than 400 teenage lawbreakers convicted of crimes ranging from aggravated assault to murder. His conclusion is that the intense programs at this facility are producing positive results.
“CREATED IN DARKNESS BY TROUBLED AMERICANS: THE BEST OF McSWEENEY’S HUMOR CATEGORY” edited by by Dave Eggers (Vintage, $11.95)
This dandy little book lists the 10 worst films of all time as reviewed by Ezra Pound on Italian Radio, ineffective ways to subdue a jaguar, four things the author would have said to Sylvia Plath if he had been her boyfriend, and shortcomings as a writer of porn movie titles.
“SORE WINNERS: AMERICAN IDOLS, PATRIOTIC SHOPPERS AND OTHER STRANGE SPECIES IN GEORGE BUSH’S AMERICA” by John Powers (Anchor Books, $14)
This is one of the most witty, pithy, relevant books ever written about American politics and what passes for culture in this country. In this incredible, acerbic literary tour de force, Powers tries to explain such basic truths as how we have come to equate consumerism with patriotism, the perception that Fox news is objective journalism and why most of us shop at the same big-box stores.
“POWERFUL MEDICINES: THE BENEFITS, RISKS, AND COSTS OF PRESCRIPTION DRUGS” by Jerry Avorn, M.D. (Vintage, $15)
A professor at Harvard Medical School draws on his experience as a physician and researcher to sort out what is right – and wrong – about the way prescription drugs are developed, tested, priced, and described. This is medical reporting at its best.