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Worse, weaker, slower
on September 9, 2012
I picked Daniel Gross's book Better, Stronger, Faster off the shelf, flipped a few pages, and started reading about the TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program) that was passed by Congress in 2008. I thought Daniel Gross did a good job writing about how that played out. A good summary of the facts. Reasonable analysis. So I got the book and brought it home to read from start to end.
My favorable first impressions fizzled. Daniel Gross writes fairly well, but in a style that channels Tom Friedman. It's a style that has never appealed to me--the author tells a story to capture your interest, and then draws conclusions and ideas from the story to build on his or her argument. Evidence by anecdote (often a personal one). Ignoring the admonition that the plural of anecdote is not data, the author can justify just about anything in this way. And that is what Daniel Gross does.
Some of what Daniel Gross says is shocking. Not that what he says is particularly important. But I had to wonder how he could believe some of these things. One example: on page 206 he talks about the 250,000 men of the Civilian Conservation Corps working in the summer of 1933. "They planted 3 billion trees, build eight hundred state parks, and saved the nation's topsoil." That's ridiculous. They didn't save the nation's topsoil. But Daniel Gross says things like that all the time.
Some of what Daniel Gross says is inane. He tells about his trips to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. He tells about his family's trip to Hawaii. He tells about his travels to various places around the world. Not that one cannot improve one's perspective by travel. But for me, the tales of travel were too much. One example: Daniel Gross has to tell us about the party Google sponsored at Davos (which he has attended ever since Google started throwing it in 2005), and how he thought David Gergen made a fool of himself with his dancing. So? No need to name drop. It cheapens your ideas. But Daniel Gross does it, a lot.
Some of what Daniel Gross says is partisan. He summarizes what he thinks should be policy by trotting out the usual Democratic issues, from books by Bill Clinton and Tom Friedman. Of course, that Democratic agenda "that gets heads nodding in assent at events hosted by Washington think tanks" would save the country, but they will never happen because of "the general unwillingness of the current Republican party to engage in large-scale, forward-looking legislation that doesn't involve massive tax cuts for the rich."
In short, I didn't like this book. Not because I am a Republican. (I'm not.) But because I think there's little thought here. There's promise in what Daniel Gross chooses to write about. Unfortunately, the promise is not kept. The book never goes anywhere.
That said, this book is much, much better than the partisan diatribes by people like Ann Coulter and Al Franken. Daniel Gross does much better than they do. Still, I can't recommend the book. Frankly, I wish I had just thumbed through it and then put it back down.