First published in 1935, when Americans were still largely oblivious to the rise of Hitler in Europe, this prescient novel tells a cautionary tale about the fragility of democracy and offers an alarming, eerily timeless look at how fascism could take hold in America.
Doremus Jessup, a newspaper editor, is dismayed to find that many of the people he knows support presidential candidate Berzelius Windrip. The suspiciously fascist Windrip is offering to save the nation from sex, crime, welfare cheats, 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.
©1935 Sinclair Lewis. © renewed 1963 by Michael Lewis (P)2016 Blackstone Audio, Inc.
OK. I don't know how political book reviews are expected to be, but it is hard not to be political with a book like "It Can't Happen Here". I think there is a pretty obvious reason that Audible has been promoting this book, and it is because of their promotion of it that I selected it, so the topic did strike a nerve. The story takes place in the 1930s, with Mussolini and Hitler in the background in Europe, and the plot basically showing how it very well could happen in the US, how Americans can fall for a demagogue and elect him in a national democratic election, and he then proceeds to rule the country with all the trappings of a dictator - military police like the SS or Gestapo, concentration camps for political prisoners and other undesirables. Just as a certain Republican candidate for president today in the US, Windrip - the elected dictator - ran on a platform fomenting hatred (in his are towards Jews, African Americans, communists, intellectuals, liberals, etc.) was a misogynist, promised economic and social reform, a return to patriotism and traditional values, Yes, he was going to make American great again! While listening to the book, I found myself feeling troubled, not just because I am convinced that it could happen in the US, but because I considered what I would do if it did happen. Some people managed to escape to Canada. Some formed an underground. Most went along, thinking they could save their skin, or, too often, to get a position or job with this new government. I know I would not go along with it and I certainly wouldn't be duped by such a person (just as I am not now duped by such an obnoxious candidate that is running right now). But I'd probably bolt ASAP and not wait and give him a chance, as many people in the story do. The most troubling aspect is that just yesterday I saw this video on the NY Times website of uncensored vitriolic language and behavior from Trump supporters (oh, whoops, I named the candidate whom this book should make you wary of) at a Trump rally, and I said: those are the people that would become Trump's military police and have no compunction about beating Muslims, Mexican immigrants, or whoever is the scapegoat of choice, if they were just given the go-ahead (and even if not) by a new president. Listen to the book and then be sure to go vote. It's up to you not to let it happen.
I didn't give 5 stars because I did feel that there was not enough plot to make the book this long. The point was made, Lewis got his idea across, and it could have been more concise. The narrator was very good, but I generally save my 5* ratings for narrators who are so good that if they read me the phone book I'd still be enthralled. This narrator was not that.
Even haunting. Once again, life imitates art. Reminds me of a quote I once heard, "Read good non-fiction for facts; read good fiction for truth."
I purchased this title in light of the upcoming presidential election, expecting to find a pattern laid out of how a populist politician might become fascist dictator a la Germany of the 1930s.
The novel turned out to be a sort of play by overview of the fictional occurrences surrounding the rise and fall of strongman Buzz Windrip and a relatively bystander newspaper editor named Deremus Jessup, who presumably serves as the protagonist, though his personal story serves as a sort of sideshow and launching pad for Lewis to prod at the inconsistencies and ironies of 1930s European fascism, transposed to a folksy American context.
There seems to be quite a bit of irony I didn't understand: lists of book titles, popular figures, and politicians of the era of which I am mostly unfamiliar.
What I find disappointing about Lewis's work is that while he indeed makes the claim "Totalitarianism _can_ happen here", I feel he never answers _why_ in a satisfying way.
Overall, the novel didn't hold my attention or provide me with any new insight on the subject.
in regard to the performance, Grover Gardner is an impeccable narrator and his dynamic reading of "It Can't Happen Here" is another job well done.
"A story for our times"
Though written in 1935 and inspired by the rise of Fascism in Europe this could read as a warning of what can happen when an unscrupulous demagogue takes on the Presidency of the USA.
It describes a similar kind of scenario as Philip Roths's The Plot against America.
Very good reader. Really captures the different characters and makes the story live.
Some sections dealing with the mistreatment of prisoners were hard to listen to but worth it in the end.
Though there are political and philosophic parts to this book it is never heavy or hard to listen to. Beautifully written.
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