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Thursday, Aug. 12, 2004 08:37 pm

Rally ’round the books, boys

Who Let the Dogs In? Molly Ivins. (Random House, $22.95)

"'Arbolist' ... Look up the word. I don't know, maybe I made it up. Anyway, it's an arbo-tree-ist, somebody who knows about trees." -- President George W. Bush, USA Today, Aug. 21, 2001

Little did George W. Bush realize, when talking to reporters in defense of his initiative to allow logging in national forests, that some of those trees might fight back. One can only guess how many of those same trees gave their lives to produce the plethora of recent publications about our 43rd president. Bookstores are bursting with Bush titles.

The books seem to fall into two categories: the serious, and the seriously funny. In the first group I found Bob Woodward's Plan of Attack (Simon & Schuster, $28), perhaps the most thorough investigation of how and why the U.S. launched a preemptive attack in Iraq. John W. Dean, former counsel to Richard Nixon offers Worse than Watergate (Little, Brown, $22.95), in which he posits that the Bush administration's obsessive secrecy is "surprisingly Nixonian." Charles Lewis, from the Center for Public Integrity, wonders why our politicians have so little of that commodity in The Buying of the President 2004 (Perennial, $14.95). He reminds us that Bush's No. 1 "career patron" is Enron, to the tune of nearly $600,000.

David Brock, a former right-wing insider, has changed direction. In The Republican Noise Machine (Crown, $25.95), he outlines how the Grand Old Party has built a powerful media machine to sell conservatism and discredit its opponents. Readers who prefer a woman's point of view will find one in Arianna Huffington's Fanatics & Fools(Miramax, $23.95). Security, she says, goes beyond protecting Americans from terrorists, and she wonders why we can't protect our children from poverty. Molly Ivins wants to know Who Let the Dogs In?(Random House, $22.95) This tough Texas columnist has met quite a few political animals in her day, and she isn't afraid to do a little Bush-whacking. Neither is U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W. Va., whose Losing America: Confronting a Reckless and Arrogant Presidency (W.W. Norton, $23.95) will probably notbe on Laura Bush's Christmas list.

Conspiracy theorists will find fodder in Robert Bryce's Cronies: Oil, the Bushes and the Rise of Texas, America's Superstate(PublicAffairs Books, $26). Along the same lines, ethicist David Ray Griffin gives us The New Pearl Harbor (Olive Branch, $15) which asks disturbing questions about the Bush administration and 9/11. As for Michael Moore's Stupid White Men (ReganBooks, $13.95), let's just say he isn't bowling for the GOP. He does, however, endorse Amy Goodman's The Exception to the Rulers: Exposing Oily Politicians, War Profiteers and the Media That Loves Them (Hyperion, $21.95). Self-described "independent" Marc Umile has written Bush Unplugged: The True Patriot's Guide to George W. Bush(True Patriots, $12.95), which Ron Kovic, author of Born on the Fourth of July, calls "a scathing strip-search of America's dangerous president." Not a pretty picture. Despite his independent spirit, I doubt that the author will be dancing at Mr. Bush's second inaugural ball (should it come to pass).

So much vitriol, so little time. On the lighter, but seriously funny side, we come to the race for the most comic look at our commander-in-chief. My vote for best title is Banana Republicans (Tarcher/Penguin, $11.95) by Sheldon Ramptonand John Stauber. Calvin Trillin is willin' to risk his reputation as America's deadline poet in Obliviously on He Sails: The Bush Administration in Rhyme (Random House, $12.95) "A lot of folks die/at last the war ends./The world is made safe/for Dick Cheney's friends." Readers who bought any of Jacob Weisberg's Bushismswill be happy to know that Bushisms: The Deluxe Election Edition(Fireside, $12.95) is now available. The Slate editor's book gives new meaning to the word ... well, to lots of words (see "arbolist," above).

For anyone who has ever recycled his or her employee manual on the first day of work, the writers from the popular Internet parody site www.whitehouse.org have come up with White House Inc. Employee Handbook (Plume, $14). Springfield's own Chris Britt is featured with some 150 other artists in Attack of the Political Cartoonists (Dork Storm, $15.95). For those seeking practical political solutions, ice-cream king Ben Cohen dishes up with 50 Ways You Can Show George the Door in 2004(Westview, $9.95) -- maybe he and Calvin Trillin should get together. My favorite is the idea of changing your dog's name to something like "Hanging Chad" as a means of starting political conversations in the park.

I am not kidding when I say I could go on. But as a closet arbolist, in my own personal attempt to save our country's forests, I will stop here, only to add that George W. Bush has become a virtual cottage industry for publishers. In fairness, he always said he wanted to jump-start the economy.

By my tally, using the equation R x $330.30 = A whole lotta dough,in which R stands for the number of readers of this review and $330.30 is the total cost of all the books, he's off to good start.


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