Thursday, September 24, 2009

100 Reasons to Hate Your Country

100 Ways America Is Screwing Up The World by John Tirman - I didn't like this book. If not for my New Years resolution, I would have given up halfway through (it took me two months to finish). Don't get me wrong -- for the most part, I agree with the author -- but this book disappointed me. For starters, Tirman apparently doesn't understand verb tenses. Although one can make a case for lingering impact, it is ridiculous to recount our country's every post-World War II sin as "ways America is screwing up the world." Going back as far as the Reagan administration -- a quarter of a century ago -- is reasonable since that ideology still holds sway (besides, I love to read criticism of "Saint Ronnie"), but CIA shenanigans in 1954 Guatemala? That seems like a stretch in 2006 (when 100 Ways was published). Tirman even repeatedly dredges up the extermination of Native Americans in the 19th century, hardly relevant in the present tense.

A bigger problem is that even after reaching back to the 1950s, the author doesn't have enough good topics. The 100 ways overlap, and sometimes Tirman fails to convincingly explain how certain domestic issues are meaningful abroad. A few of his ideas are weak or peculiar (oh no, America is fomenting anti-smoking laws worldwide!). Especially toward the end, Tirman's case devolves into curmudgeonly whining. Liberal whining can be just as annoying as conservative whining (though not as mean-spirited).

I presume this book was inspired by the right-wing screed about 100 people (liberals, naturally) who are screwing up America. Unlike that book, 100 Ways is not a complete waste of time. Although a less informed reader probably would enjoy it more, even a jaded leftist like me learned a few things, such as how the NRA helped defeat anti-gun laws in Brazil. The trouble is that "answer books" are like "answer songs"; they rarely get as much attention as their inspiration. Tirman probably could have written a better book without the "100 ways" gimmick.

I suppose it works as a mediocre introduction to "why they hate us." In that sense, the worst thing about 100 Ways is that the people who need to read it the most are precisely those who will ignore it. I should send my copy to my Fox News-addicted grandmother.

Current tally: 71 books finished, 65 books acquired

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