It's not loaded with statistics, and doesn't go into too much detail, but Frank's arguments are complete and well-structured. I think he writes assuming that the reader (listener) of his book is well versed in current events and the various positions of the government and media players he talks about. This seems to be a supplement to what we all watch on TV and read in the political press every day. And, as well done as it is, I have to agree that it is indeed more of a "rant" than an academic treatise.
However, it is not all one-sided in its treatment of the two major parties. Those who say it's just a pro-Democrat, anti-Republican screed obviously didn't listen to the whole thing. In my opinion, the best part of the book is Frank's comparison of the last 5 years to the 1929-1934 US response to the great depression. The parallels are unsettling and he is very even-handed in criticizing our government's response to the Great Recession.
This review may seem like I'm not a Michael Moore fan (I am) or that I didn't very much enjoy this audio book (I did). But I have to say that it wasn't all it could have been or all I hoped it would be.
The main issue is one of insight. Michael Moore is no doubt a great story teller. You may disagree with his politics or his tactics, but you have to admit that he can use images and back-story to paint a very compelling picture. But as I listened to this collection of stories, I realized that he was approaching each of these memories in the same way he approaches his film subjects - as if he weren't the one experiencing them. As if he were telling the story about someone else.
As an example (and hopefully without giving any of the very interesting details away), he tells a story about his childhood where he both witnessed and actively took part in a terrible injustice that happened to one of the young people he grew up with. He tells a poignant story about how this person was the victim of cruel and brutal treatment. He even does a good job of conveying how he felt as a child as it happened - about the times and how society's rules at the time led good people to do bad things. And also about why he participated and why he should have known that it was wrong. However, what he never says - and what I most wanted to know - is how he feels now about his role in that episode, and how it affects him today.
I got this same feeling about several of the stories he tells. There's no doubt that Michael Moore has lived a varied and interesting life. Because of his personality and his innate sense of justice and fairness, he has put himself in the middle of some amazing, even historic circumstances. But in writing this book, it also seems clear that he looks back at those events with a documentarian's eye. He pays great attention to the details and arcs of the stories, but at the expense of insight.
When I read a memoir, I do want to hear the extraordinary details of events (if you don't have interesting stories to tell, why write a memoir?). However, that's only half the job. I want to hear what you did and what you felt at the time. But I also want to hear how you feel about it now. How you feel about your own actions. Any regrets you may have or things you would do differently if faced with the same circumstances today.
I like stories, especially ones as well-told as these. But I read (and listen to) memoirs for insight and wisdom. I wish Moore had spent more time exploring his thinking and feelings now, and what wisdom he can share with us that was earned while living those stories.
As for the narration, I have only one thing to say, and it's actually a message to all of the authors who write books that are turned into audio books: If you are a writer, and you have any facility with the spoken word at all, please - PLEASE - narrate your own work. Sure, Michael Moore is an above average oral communicator. Sure, he is in fact more a TV and film performer than he is a writer (although we learn in this book that he is really a writer at heart). But I can't tell you how much it added to these stories to have the person who actually lived them and who wrote them down read them here. It just adds a genuineness and a commitment that even the most professional audio book reader an't convey. Even though Michael Moore has a penchant for the occasional overacting, he does a great job of bringing us into these stories.
Overall, I'd say that this is a must-listen for Michael Moore fans, and highly recommended for anyone who is interested in his background and what influences went into creating the character we see on TV and in theaters today. It really is an entertaining book. I just wish he had reflected a little more on some of the bigger themes and given us a little more insight into how he feels about these stories now that he looks back at his experiences.
For those who are sensitive to profanity or find its use distasteful, I can see where this book might not be to your liking. For Matt Taibbi fans, however, his irreverent use of four letter words is a welcome complement to his thorough research and brutal analysis. It adds levity to material that otherwise would be just too depressing.
Similarly, he often overly-vilifies certain political beings (Palin, the Tea Party, etc.) in a way that can seem mean spirited. Again, it's mostly used as comic relief or as shorthand in making a side-point without going into detail. If you identify with one of the people or groups he may call a colorful name, I understand how you might be offended. However, what you can't say is that his facts are wrong or his analysis inaccurate.
As for the material itself, this book delivers exactly the kind of incisive analysis that Taibbi's Rolling Stone work gives us, but in a longer form and with an overall framework that makes Griftopia a very compelling listen.
The one thing that is lackluster is the narration. It's not that the narrator isn't competent or the performance not completely professional. It's just that he's much too formal and humorless for the irreverent edge that is the best part of Taibbi's writing. This book would have been much better served by a narrator who could convey the snark and wit that permeates the text. Instead, I sometimes felt as if the narrator was purposefully trying to remain monotone and robotic in order to avoid any emotion.
Overall, though, it's a must listen for any Matt Taibbi fan. I would also strongly recommend it to anyone who is looking for current, well-informed commentary on the biggest issues facing America, but who understands that politics are often ugly and unpleasant. Taibbi speaks in a voice anyone can understand, and that includes making absolutely clear who the villains are in every situation - sometimes to gleeful, profane excess.
If you like your political commentary sharp, loaded with credible facts and analysis, and brutally honest, check this one out.
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