Monday, February 7, 2011

Third World America

I’m going to begin this review with a digression. Let’s talk about Arianna Huffington. Despite the fact that her name (and online journalism) has been around for a while, I unintentionally managed to go a long time without hearing anything she said or reading anything she wrote. I vaguely knew that she was similar to me on the political spectrum (if a bit more liberal) and assumed that I would enjoy her book.

And then I saw her on Conan. In the interview, she was asked why she owns three blackberries. Hold it, I thought, What does any one person need with three blackberries. One blackberry? Completely reasonable. Two blackberries? Silly, but understandable if you needed to talk and browse the internet at the same time. Three? Terribly excessive! Is it even possible to use three blackberries? I was actually interested to hear how she justified her ownership. But what did she respond with? Some story about how she fainted, tried to cut back her blackberry use to only two (because they caused her fainting?), but was now back to using three. In other words, no real answer.

Ever since I saw that interview in December, I can’t stop thinking about the ridiculousness of owning three blackberries, and, slowly, I have become more and more angry with Huffington for her ownership. Here she is, in theory a champion for the lower and middle class, and she owns three blackberries. I’m not saying that if you have money you should donate it all and never buy yourself nice things. What I’m saying is that maybe you shouldn’t have three of the exact same nice thing.

So, now for the review. As you can gather, I didn’t go into the book with the best opinion of the author. However, I assumed she would be a good writer (considering the fact that her career is based on it) and thought the book wouldn’t be so bad. Turns out, it was a false assumption, but more on that later.

In Third World America: How our Politicians are Abandoning the Middle Class and Betraying the American Dream, Huffington presents a cavalcade of depressing facts about the state of America, making the point that if we don’t make some big changes, the country will lose its status as a world leader and, indeed, a first-world country. The book is split into five sections, each finishing with first-hand accounts from suffering, formerly middle class Americans. The final section provides actions America needs to take to avoid its great decline.

Politically, I should have felt myself agreeing with the points Huffington made. I should have read what she wrote and been spurred to action. Instead, because it was written in such an abrasive, accusatory matter, I found myself reacting defensively, thinking “She’s being too harsh. It’s not really that bad.” (Even though, chances are good that for many people, it is). Couple the accusatory tone with a glut of weak and clichéd metaphors, awful puns, and out-of-place pop culture references, and you’re left with an unpleasant reading experience.

The final section of the book, where Huffington presents potential solutions, was the best part, though I would have liked to have more actions individuals can take, and fewer proposals of large (and unrealistic) overhauls.

Despite my many complaints, I’m giving Third World America a 2/5. It did present interesting facts about America’s current state, and had I not been so anti-Huffington prior to reading, I may have cut the book more slack.

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