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on August 6, 2010
Common Nonsense is a fascinating, scary book to read, both well researched and well written. The Glenn Beck phenomenon is a reflection of our political naivete as a country; our willingness to "tune in" is a throwback to our childish fascination with the "bogeyman". Beck's publicity events are the equivalent of early Billy Graham religious rallies on steroids, with Tea Party chapters replacing local churches, so-called patriots replacing converts, and the U.S. Constitution referred to like the Bible.

Alexander Zaitchik describes in detail how Beck's influence has exploded with his exposure on Fox television, the internet and availability of 24/7 media saturation, plus his canny marketing events paid for by audience "donor drives" which he mastered on "morning zoo" radio gigs.

Glenn Beck perfectly fits Mark Twain's definition of a Patriot as "the person who can holler the loudest without knowing what he is hollering about." If only Mark Twain were here to write about Glenn Beck with humor and pathos, because this is not a funny book.
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Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Let me start by saying I am not a fan of Glenn Beck. I have seen the show possibly a half dozen times and was turned off by the heavily marked up black boards with arrows, and circles all pointing to various forms of conspiracy theories. I am not a big fan of anyone who sees a conspiracy behind every tree and bush, which appears to be what motivates Beck.

The question becomes whether he is a showman of high caliber that has found a way to keep an audience or whether he really believes what is spewing from his mouth on a nightly basis. From the information provided in this book, it appears to be a combination of both. It is obvious that at one time Beck was a gifted and talented Top 40 radio jock that could lure in an audience. It is also apparent that he toasted himself on drugs and alcohol and flamed out at a very early age from a career that could have been great. And it is apparent, by some of the stunts that he pulled while in that position, that he is sadistic and cruel. But whatever else he is, Beck is a consummate showman.

Following his flameout from Top 40 radio, he switched to talk radio where he also came very close to a flameout. Only very fortunate circumstances (for Beck) kept him from being a washed up former disc jockey at a fairly early age. And, because of that luck, he was able to hone his abilities to the point where he became a success in talk radio. The question is what makes him so successful? Is it that he mixes conservative mantra with a showman's gift to sell, or that people love to gather to watch a train wreck? On that count, only time will tell.

The author did an extraordinary job of interviewing people and researching this book. He exposes much of the hypocrisy that is Beck, along with the mantra that drives him. It is not a book for fans of Beck who will dismiss it out of hand. If, however, you are an individual with an independent mind and wants to learn what makes Beck tick then this is a prefect book for your enjoyment.
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on December 18, 2011
As you can see from the reviews and comments, people who dislike Beck praise this book for being well researched and written, and people who like Beck condemn this book for being poorly researched and written. Yet, while much of the content of this book can be categorized as being based on ad hominem and gossip, this book provides many insights into why Beck enjoys such appeal among his fans. Now that Beck has started his new GBTV, he has become something of an online televangelist and a cult leader. This is worrying when his fans tend to remain blissfully unaware of how Beck feeds off their ignorance and prejudices to give them the feeling that he is "ahead of the curve" and that they are a part of some "inner circle" of people who can see the truth (and anyone who does not agree with them is either a liar or an idiot.) If you are interested in reading about Beck's inner psyche and rise to fame, this book is worth reading, but if you are more interested in how Beck uses propaganda, the corporate agenda behind his "conservative libertarian" discourse, and how Beck is creating a "them v us" rhetoric that is damaging to public debate and democratic participation, then I recommend Karl Rogers's Debunking Glenn Beck: How to Save America from Media Pundits and Propagandists.
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on February 7, 2011
This book has a lot of promise. It is written by a studious and intelligent writer, and includes information about Glenn Beck that is interesting and frightening. He shows very well that Glenn Beck has allowed his career to follow blue skies and ended up the polarizing pundit he is simply because that's what the public seemed to want and would best assure his success, in a disingenuous way. My only problem with the book is that there are times when the author fails to hide his vitriol at Beck and allows his research to trail off into rants about the man. While the information is good, the argument is thoughtful and logical, and the subject is worthy, Zaitchik betrays his simple hatred of Beck which undermines his scholarly work. I recommend the book, but it works out better for people who already know they dislike Beck--if you are on the fence you may be put-off by the obvious leading on the part of the author.
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VINE VOICEon June 8, 2010
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
The title of this book makes it sound like the usual sort of political pig-wrestling and name-calling. There's a fair amount of that in the last third of the book, which I don't care for. That part of the book also tends to substitute Beck's fears of a vast communist conspiracy with Zaitchik's own fears of a vast right-wing conspiracy.

But the first two-thirds are a much more objective story of how Glenn Beck got started in radio. It tells of a very driven young man who also picked up various addictions as he succeeded in his chosen career. Eventually he became a train wreck and moved from Top 40 morning radio shows into political talk radio. Since he hadn't been politically aware, he was politically ill-informed. However, he excelled at taking various tricks from Top 40 radio and converting them into a successful political show.

Much of this part of the book emphasizes Beck's success in marketing himself, in both of his radio incarnations. He has excelled in building a brand that, like Oprah's, spreads across many different media and makes him a wealthy entertainer.

I would have liked to see more discussion of Beck's audience. Zaitchik treats these listeners are clueless rubes, but I suspect they are not so homogenous. It would be nice to know more about the people on whom Beck depends for his millions.
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on September 10, 2010
This book is a MUST READ. It's not a hard read, and is presented and written in great detail. All Glenn Beck haters and lovers should read this book and find out how the master con-artist is using his devoted followers for his own self promotion and wealth. Watch the Camelion change it's colors to fit his madness. What's most frightening, is that this master showman has millions of True Believers that follow his every word as if it was handed down by God himself.
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VINE VOICEon August 4, 2010
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
While "Common Nonsense" by Alexander Zaitchik is the kind of book many will no doubt judge by its cover, those who actually read it may find their reaction has less to do with whether they support or revile Glenn Beck and more to do with what they believe his real motivations are.

I'll say upfront my own "deeply ingrained conspiracy-minded world view" is that Beck and his multi-millionaire cohorts at Fox and their aligned radio/web media are in it first, last, and in-between for the money. And their counterparts on the Left are no different.

Like individuals in a comedy troupe or clowns in a circus, each player carves out their personal shtick, syncs their talking points, and emotes on queue - all for the benefit of ad revenue.

If their bosses, backers, and partners (and they all have them - none are the brave mavericks they paint themselves to be), ever decide that in order to continue receiving fat contracts that shtick will have to be modified, I don't doubt every one of them would turn on a dime.

But enough about me, how's the book?

That's not to say there isn't an interesting storyline throughout "Common Nonsense".
The first quarter of the book describes Beck's entry and unsteady nomadic career as a Top 40 shock jock and later emerging talk radio host. Zaitchik writes crisply at a good pace. He comes up just a little bit light on the quotes from former co-workers of Beck but he paints a believable portrait of the obsessive, drug and alcohol-addled young radio host.

Being a few years older than Beck the cultural signposts Zaitchik lays out were very familiar. The story of how the deregulation of radio station ownership drove the exodus of music from AM to FM with the resulting vacuum filled by talk-radio taught me some things and helped explain some of the radio upheaval I recall - such as the literally overnight transformation of New York's jazz station WRVR to a country music format.

Like many recovering addicts Beck latched onto a religious orientation - in this case Mormonism - with an evangelical zeal. And a large part of "Common Nonsense" is dedicated to Beck's empathy for a particular fringe right-wing of that religion that continues to influence his thinking today including his ominous-sounding 100 Year Plan, the 9/12 Project. Beck is painted as a mean-spirited, extremely paranoid personality whose found kinship with a religious fringe consumed by the usual New World Order-influenced cast of demons and bugaboos and who secretly pine for their own DaVinci code.

Not being of that faith I had no idea such a fringe existed. But while Zaitchik's side trip through Mormon history is interesting at first it ultimately drags on far too long.

I suppose the reason I feel this way is my own view that, whatever Beck's attachment to his religion, he operates first and foremost as a corporate promoter of his own business interests and those of his employers. If the first rule of advertising is to grab the audience's emotions, that guiding principle has sadly been adopted by politicians and news organizations to the extent that even the weather is no longer immune from sensationalism. (When the temperature alone isn't enough to excite the crowd, let's juice it up a few degrees with the Heat-Index!).

The author is clearly not a supporter of Beck or right-wing media but Alexander Zaitchik commits a number of journalistic sins in "Common Nonsense" that don't help his argument:

1) The use of anonymous blog posts to dramatize points is barely a step up the ladder from sock puppetry itself. Amazon's reviews likely get more oversight than your average blog comments. It's insulting as a reader to be asked to trust them.

2) The author resorts at times to essentially name-calling and insult. I can hear Zaitchik's distain of Beck loud and clear without his inserted snide cracks. It makes for a kind of odd literary device - the Omnipotent Bitter Narrator. It seems to me it's easy enough to hang Beck with his own attributed words and actions without sounding like you've been cut off a few too many times as a cable TV guest and are looking to get back a few digs after the fact.

The book's blurb touts Beck's influence on the Tea Party but what Zaitchik presents is rather a picture of how Beck shrewdly co-opts that (emotionally) captive audience and steers them towards his own brand of demagogic scapegoating-of-the-Other-ness.

I had a post 9/11 fling with conservative talk radio that lasted over a year. I can understand the appeal it offers many people. But listening regularly it became more and more difficult to ignore certain things: the superficial arguments, books referred to but obviously not deeply read, the avoidance of any reality that counters the party line, the sheer repetition of the same points from host to host, hour after hour. It's the same emotional manipulation I feel whenever I (rarely) venture into a movie theater to watch a mainstream Hollywood film. It's more than a little ironic how the Right demonizes Hollywood while deploying the very same bag of manipulative tricks. And let it be said again the Left does it as well.

People who are regular and hearty consumers of zero-sum media in all its forms which paint the world in stark and simple contrasts (or is it the primary colors favored by children?) will find a lot to stoke their emotions in "Common Nonsense".

After finishing the book I was reminded of a line I heard on television concerning of all people, Osama Bin Laden. It was around the time he was apparently trapped in Tora Bora. When asked whether Bin Laden would likely choose martyrdom over capture, some analyst replied without missing a beat, "That depends on whether or not he really believes his own BS."

The same could be said for infotainment celebrities like Beck. I for one would bet all the mansions in New Canaan he doesn't believe his own BS for a second.

Zaitchik's book is not as fullfilling a read as it could have been, but he makes his point, almost in spite of himself.
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on September 2, 2010
This is a great and important book. There have been several excellent reviews here praising it in detail, so my comments don't need to be extensive. I learned a lot about Glenn Beck from the book, and additionally it was great to be reminded, once again, how powerful goodness and truth can be. So many good people try to be nice and understanding about the wrong that people like Beck do. I'm learning that "nice" and "understanding" aren't necessarily good traits in the face of destructive people. How can we possibly be the moral nation we like to think we are if our country is populated with those who close their eyes to evil?
It was encouraging to see the uninspired gathering Beck put together last Saturday. If Beck's message (ever mysterious but unfailingly aimed at arousing anger and admiration for himself) is losing its impact, as witnessed by the turnout (87,000 according to an aerial count from CBS, plus the decidedly NOT cross section of Americans in the audience (although there were people other than whites on the podium), then the more exposure Beck gets, the weaker his influence becomes. Tea Party people, though they may have different ideas than I have on how to get there, are first and foremost Americans who want to work toward giving our descendants a greater America, and one thing Americans are innately good at identifying, when it comes right down to it, is BS, not to mention messianic complexes, and phony baloneys out to make themselves rich. Thanks again to Zaitchik for this powerful book.
P.S. Anyone seen the YouTube of Beck, being directed in a photo shoot, crying on cue? What a guy! Also, I'd recommend the recording of him screaming at a caller.
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Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Yes a good read. Zaitchik is a good writer and did some very good research on the crazyman Beck. I don't think necessarily agree that one should be spending time writing books about people like Beck because Beck has and will continue to be the root of his own demise. The sad truth is the people who need to read this book...the folks brainwashed by Beck...won't do it. Anyway worth the read if you have time but you are probably smart enough to know the real deal on Beck.
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VINE VOICEon November 15, 2011
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I've always had a strong dislike for Glenn Beck. I find him to be a phony and a muckraker who appeals to the lowest common denominator in our country. Alexander Zaitchik writes a thoroughly researched and open account of this man who is making money off of hate. I found it to be a must read for those who detest Beck's version of conservatism and racism.
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