Doremus Jessup, a newspaper editor, is dismayed to find how many people he knows support presidential candidate Berzelius Windrip. The suspiciously fascist Windrip is offering to save the nation from welfare cheats, sex, crime, and a liberal press. But after Windrip wins the election, dissent soon becomes dangerous for Jessup. Windrip forcibly gains control of Congress and the Supreme Court and, with the aid of his personal paramilitary storm troopers, turns the United States into a totalitarian state.
©1954 Michael Lewis; (P)2008 Blackstone Audio, Inc.
"Not only [Lewis'] most important book but one of the most important books ever produced in this country." (The New Yorker)
This would be a difficult book to read simply as an entertaining story. As with George Orwell's _Nineteen eighty-four_, the subject matter is simply too grim, unavoidably causing the reader (or listener, as the case may be) to look for parallels in his own time. And parallels there are. In so many ways, little has changed in the seventy-some-odd years since this book's publication. The creep of totalitarianism has lost none of its fright. All those years also give the modern reader an insight into the worldview and attitude of many Americans from decades ago. In this way, the book can serve as a kind of history lesson. I recommend it.
Say something about yourself!
First off, this narrator is marvelous! He prepared for this reading extremely well, so that there is never a dull moment, though there are relaxed and flowing passages contrasting with the sex (yes, sweet sex and friendship) and fiery political stuff. Politics has never been my forte, but I have forced myself to use the little IQ points to pay attention to matters which might prove crucial someday.
I read 1984 back when that date was so far ahead in the future that it seemed to me and my friends that the time would never come. A ouija board told me I would not get married until 1983 -- which proved true, to a man I met in the back of a Greyhound -- and I was horrified! I think young people don't realize how precious life is at any age. "Respect life" has become a stupid knee-jerk slogan, but . . . ignore it at your peril. So this book is about a nice family man who edits a small-town newspaper in Vermont. Lewis alternates family events with town, county, country and world events as a different kind of government takes over our country, the insolent handy-man (not!) becomes local mucky-muck, scholarship and learning are overlooked and even ridiculed, and machine guns decide for death over life.
I enjoyed the many clever references in the book, little descriptions that seem modern. There is even a reference to television. It will take another listen to get more of these. An annotated version would help me. And I am angry that I will have to send for a print copy to get the last four paragraphs. For shame, audible! The book is timely because more of our kids are squeaking by their classes with multiple-choice exams. More and more seniors are spending their golden years playing stupid games on FB. I was accosted last week in an electronics store by a young Nazi with striped hair and big plastic fingernails who took delight in telling me that my camera is so old, they have no parts for it and furthermore I am old and ugly and low-income, a has-been, while she is sharp and strong and one happening chick! Two apparently castrated co-workers hung back and watched. I wondered if she had been watching too many silly legal dramas on TV where would-be lawyers with big plastic fingernails and mini-skirt-suits triumph in conference rooms. She did not pull out a machine gun, but I am old enough to make far-seeing witch-like predictions, and I was plenty chilled. People are being bullied badly world-wide these days in schools, on the job, and in senior housing. Something to watch.
Lewis has as many vivid and "liberated" female characters as male. I noticed that no matter how many restrictions, no matter how bad things got, individuals still found small things to take pleasure in, people to love, happy memories. A cook named Mrs. Candy who bakes cocoanut cake! A precious dog named Foolish! Although the book was written in 1935 and takes place in 1936 and on, Lewis seems to know already about Hitler's death camps. At least we do, and so we flash on them repeatedly. I thought often of the heartless military types who assembled in New Orleans after Katrina. You bet it could happen here! We need to have our fun 100% and stand up for other kinds of fun that other kinds of people enjoy. We need to pay attention to coverage of so-called terrorist events which are then used to support gun control. We need to watch out for labels; a born-again Republican type (or a damned liberal Democrat!) might become your best friend and savior down the line. We need to study new wrinkles in our laws that various courts come up with. These are scarey times. I found this book most refreshing!
This book is something of a sleeper, but more people really should know about it. There's a bit of a slow start, but it turns in to a fantastic book with eerie prescience of Nazi Germany during that war, and in some disturbing ways even our own country in the last 10 years. But the book manages to be funny and light-hearted at times, despite its somber subject, so it isn't a heavy read at all.
I found this book to be a fascinating work of hypothetical historical fiction. It begins slowly, in keeping with the pre-crisis gentility of its bookish, patrician protagonist, but picks up once presidential candidate Buzz Windrip takes over, becoming a vivid imagining of what American fascism might look like if it resembled that of Europe. Lewis wrote the book quickly and presciently in 1935.
Although there are numerous similiarities between the Corpo government and the Bush administration, Lewis avoids making this a simple trashing of Republicans, showing a Democratic candidate cynically using the leftist rhetoric of class liberation and social justice, only to then betray those ideals and swing hard right, as did Mussolini in Italy. The novel is especially poignant when it juxtaposes the mundane normalcy of smalltown life with the brutal violence of the Corpo regime. One character reflects that "The worst of it was that it wasn't so very bad," and this underscores Lewis's point that Americans are willing to tolerate things such as torture, racial discrimination, and imperial presidential power, so long as our private lives are insulated from them. Lewis champions "the free, inquiring, critical spirit" of classical liberalism as the solution to fascism and communism, which for him are equally totalitarian, but seems to contradict that solution in the book's final revolutionary chapters.
The narration is good, with variety in the character voices and unaffected delivery. Unfortunately, it stops on the penultimate page, omitting the final four paragraphs of the book.
I love books!
I used to wonder to myself, not too seriously most likely, about how could the USA not have realized what was happening in Nazi Germany with the Nazi takeover and all that it meant. Well, this author debunks my theory as he wrote this book in 1935, well before the start of the actual war. In the book, he paints a plausible picture about what a fictional fascist takeover might look in the USA. It looked much like what was happening in Germany at the time but incorporated American values and institutions and how they be won over to the cause. The person who was elected President ran on a 15 point program, three of which were; 1. anti-Jewish (unless they had very, very large sums of money to contribute); 2. anit-Black (their income had to be capped at $5,000 tops per individual; 3. anti-female (their place was in the home). The story is told through the eyes of a journalist that ran a small town newspaper who termed what was going on a "comic tyranny" and in listening to the book much of it did seem comic. But I wonder how often in the beginning of the Nazi takeover in Germany many of the rank and file, people like you and me, thought what was happening was comical until it became real. And, remember, the author wrote this in 1935 and seemed to have a very good idea of what was really going on. It brought to mind the thought I have sometimes and most others do as well where you think, ah, that won't ever happen, then it does.
Say something about yourself!
What would a fascist America look like? Sinclair Lewis builds his novel on this question, and it's not a pretty picture.
Fans of dystopian writers Aldous Huxley and George Orwell may Lewis' version interesting. The idea for the miniseries "V" was based on this book, so fans of the show may find this worth a listen.
Even though some of the situations link strongly to Lewis' time period (for example, the controversy surrounding women's suffrage), the overall themes are ones Americans still grapple with today.
Sinclair Lewis must have dashed off It Cant Happen Here in the heat of the moment. The characters are two-dimensional, especially, the villains. The story is precipitate and, yet, over-long. The abrupt turn around of events at the end is silly and there is no organic reason for most of the dire events-suddenly, folks turn sadist, suddenly, folks turn hero. Lewis is best when he is drawing characters motivated by petty desires like Babbit and Elmer Gantry. The narrator is good and does much to make this book worth listening to.
My interests run to psychology, popular science, history, world literature, and occasionally something fun like Jasper Fforde. It seems like the only free time I have for reading these days is when I'm in the car so I am extremely grateful for audio books. I started off reading just the contemporary stuff that I was determined not to clutter up my already stuffed bookcases with. And now audio is probably 90% of my "reading" matter.
Totalitarianism saw it's first most horrible rise to power in the years between the two world wars. Fascism and Communism both led to the same place but not everyone could see that. Ayn Rand saw that clearly enough but her work never appealed to the mainstream. Here we have a mainstream author attempting to tackle that theme. As it turned out, the creeping big government of his own time was more subtle than Lewis's scenario, but that only means it was more insidious. Here we are in 2012 and government has its hooks into more aspects of our private lives than Lewis ever dreamed of. The Left has promised the masses all the free handouts Lewis envisaged, and the Right has given us Homeland Security, but neither side has lifted a finger to give us back any of the rights the other side has taken away. Both sides are trending inevitably toward totalitarianism. Hopefully, this book will open a few eyes. Unfortunately, I think the tendency is to see it as a historical oddity--an alarmist view of foreign doctrines taking hold in America. But Lewis makes a great point which is that the values we hold most precious are maintained not by Government or the Military or any other big public institution, but by we the people insisting on our Constitutional rights. Lewis was genuinely prescient in showing what happens when too many of us are complacent about allowing big government to grow unchecked. That makes this book still worth reading today.
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