books book reviews

books about America and American politics

reviewed by T. Nelson


A Cry from the Far Middle:
Dispatches from a Divided Land

by P.J. O'Rourke
Atlantic Monthly Press, 2020, 230 pages
reviewed by T. Nelson

If you think being a liberal or a conservative is tough these days, try being a libertarian sometime. A libertarian is a cynic with a sense of humor, which means people on both sides pile on to them. O'Rourke is one, and his views are summed up here:

Lacking civil liberties and property rights, representative democracy is left with nothing to represent except the will of the mob or—as it's called these days—“activism.” We already live in a country where activists are snatching the role once played by duly elected and duly appointed officials. [p. 47]

Here's a paragraph on his chapter on legalization of marijuana:

I'm a veteran of the 1960s “drug culture.” At least I suppose so. . . . It's just that I don't recall much about it. Where were we going in the “bong bus”? What did we do when we got there? Who else was along for the ride? And why, when I try to think of their names, do they all seem to have been called “Groovy” and “Sunshine”? Oh my gosh, I hope I wasn't driving. [p. 157]

This isn't a comedy book, though he does have good jokes about Biden, socialism, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and libertarians. Some fall flat. But mostly it's politics that is the punchline, which means the libs and cons are going to hate us a bit more for making fun of them.

Now that we're finished being microaggressed by viruses maybe we could do with a bit more libertarian irreverence while we wait for the election from hell that is coming up.

sep 19, 2020


American Nations:
A history of the eleven rival regional cultures of North America

by Colin Woodward
Penguin, 2011, 371 pages
reviewed by T. Nelson

This is not a history book, but a reinterpretation of American history in defense of the author's view that although the USA and Canada are two countries they are made up of eleven different nations: El Norte, New France, Tidewater, Yankeedom, New Netherland, Deep South, Midlands, Appalachia, Left Coast, Far West, and First Nation.

The author says our regional differences originated in religious and ethnic differences of the original founders, who set the tone for the region's character. The ‘nations’ roughly correspond to regional dialects, with the exception of ‘Midlands,’ which starts in southern New Jersey, winds through a narrow strip of Pennsylvania and Illinois to South Dakota, and then veers up through southern Canada. His county-by-county map shows ‘Yankeedom’ extending from New England through Erie, Cleveland, Chicago, and encompassing all of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. ‘Greater Appalachia’ goes from West Virginia through Illinois all the way to New Mexico.

This gerrymandered distribution doesn't correspond either to ethnic origins or to linguistic patterns, so we have people in one “nation” speaking the dialect of another, but Woodward thinks it may help us understand their divergent political attitudes. (For example, this summer's fad in northern cities of defunding the police occurred mainly in Yankeedom, suggesting the emergence of an alliance between puritanical Yankeedom and the antinomian Left Coast.)

The “nations” are mostly just regional stereotypes: Yankees are autocratic Puritans, Appalachians are clannish Scots-Irish, and Midlanders are peaceful Quakers. The author expresses strong animosity toward the Deep South. Residents of particular regions will see their stereotypes well represented but will chafe at how they are exaggerated.

Even though the general thesis feels a bit contrived, there are many interesting historical facts. The book is all about simplifying a people through stereotypes. Europeans and Brits may gain some understanding the regional differences in American politics, and Americans may gain a new club to beat each other over the head with, but in the end the author's explanation of historical phenomena as products of “racism” and “white supremacy”—terms that have been drained of meaning by adherents of woke ideology—fatally undermines his credibility.

dec 05, 2020