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Politics: Observations and Arguments, 1966-2004 Hardcover – July 15, 2004

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Editorial Reviews Review

These are rich times for writers of Hendrik Hertzberg's political persuasion. The stalwart political commentator has plenty of qualified company on the left when it comes to critiquing the conservative revolution, notably Lewis Lapham, William Greider, and Paul Krugman. But the former New Republic editor and current New Yorker executive editor has a voice that is particularly suitable for an on-the-outs observer. Hertzberg seems almost delighted to pinpoint hypocrisy, inconsistency, greed, and masked cynicism. At his best, he makes indignation fun. Politics gathers dozens of Hertzberg's editorials and essays in one hefty volume, organizing them in loose subdivisions ("The Wayward Media," "Wedge Issues," "2000 + 9/11"). The former Jimmy Carter speechwriter isn't above lancing those on the left who fail to match their ideals with their actions, but, naturally, he's at his best when scrutinizing those on the right. The Reagan and Bush II administrations proved to be particularly inspirational. Keen, pithy, and daring (if not always right; in 1988, he ruefully forecasted a Dan Quayle administration), Hertzberg ranks with the finest political writers of his era. The proof is in this wide-ranging and smartly edited compilation. --Steven Stolder

From Publishers Weekly

Hertzberg's name is instantly recognizable to readers of the New Yorker, where he often writes the lead commentary on the week's political fallout. Drawing on nearly 40 years' worth of material, this collection sums up a career that has included stints editing the New Republic and speechwriting for Jimmy Carter, and offers some surprises: a baby boomer's reminiscences on the 20th anniversary of Woodstock are expected, as are repeated forays into electoral reform, but a 1972 John Lennon profile and a probe of the origins of the classic New York tabloid headline, FORD TO CITY: DROP DEAD find the politics in pop culture. A long stretch of material deals with his coverage of the 1988 election, including a reflection on the possibility of Dan Quayle becoming president that leads into a discussion of disengaged leadership. And there's plenty of direct criticism of George W. Bush and his handling of the war on terror, in the context of Hertzberg's longstanding dissatisfaction with neoconservatives and self-appointed protectors of "Judeo-Christian" values. Taken as a whole, the articles show a consistent concern for a classical liberalism in which sober reasoning rests on equal footing with sly humor, but even articles from 2000 feel distant given the pace of current events.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 720 pages
  • Publisher: The Penguin Press; 1st edition (July 15, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594200181
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594200182
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.8 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,096,990 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

43 of 48 people found the following review helpful By R. Stanton on July 20, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Hendrik Hertzberg is the most humane and articulate voice I've heard in the mainstream media in this decade. I wanted to stand up and salute, or cheer, or cry, or something, after hearing an hour-long interview with him on NPR. His writing, like his speaking, radiates kindness, humanity, wisdom, thoughtfulness: unlike almost any other writer analyzing U.S. politics (an automatically divisive subject), Hertzberg is unfailingly courteous, even solicitous, immensely and sincerely respectful of the reader, and above all, kind; yet his critique is razor-sharp and perfectly articulated. This is a writer who knows what words mean, and always uses exactly the right words to express what he means to say.

In short, if you read only one non-fiction book this year, let it be this one; Hertzberg will lift you up, he will restore your faith in humanity, and he will remind you of what the English language can do when it's properly employed.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Mark Phillips on July 16, 2004
Format: Hardcover
The right wing review that preceded this one tells far more about the reviewer than about this perceptive, sensitive, sometimes brilliant collection of essays. Apart from his political acuity, Hertzberg's observations on other aspects of American culture, such as his wonderful piece on the experience of police at a post 911 Bruce Springsteen concert are exceptional. Yes, Hertzberg has a liberal bias and he makes moral judgements, most of them ones which are sympatico with our professed best American values. Even if you were to read only half of the columns in this book, you would get more than your money's worth.
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 16, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Hendrik Hertzberg is one of the very, very few smart, honest voices on the political observation deck these days - almost every essay in the book provides a fresh (and often hilarious) insight into modern American political history. There are too many gems in this book to list, but I learned something important on nearly every page. While my own politics are different from the author, I really loved this book anyway (it was a gift from a more liberal friend). It, unlike so much else I've read lately, not only entertained, but made me think about my own concept of what has gone on in this country for the past 40 or so years. Plus,whether you agree with him or not, it is really a fun read - this guy really knows how to write-and all of it seems vitally important, especially in these times.If you've suffered through endless prattle by political pundits, you'll find this book to be a breath of fresh air.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Lev Tsitrin on February 24, 2005
Format: Hardcover
There is no better way to be introduced to a piece of writing than hearing its author discuss his work. In January, I attended a lecture entitled "Politics and The New Yorker," given by the magazine's senior political editor. In a calm, earnest, reflective manner, Mr. Hertzberg spoke about writers of previous generations and about enduring relevance of the issues they raised. He talked of his hopes and his vision for the country. A book by this logical, articulate, sensitive person should be a worthwhile read, I thought. Too bad I could not get a copy right then and there, and have it inscribed - the organizers did not accept credit cards, and I did not have enough cash on me.

The next day I was at Borders, and found the book. It promised to be a real treat - the first impression that was fully confirmed as I kept reading. All of a sudden, my daily commute became both short and interesting. As an ex-Russian, I appreciated the breadth of the subject matter of this collection of essays, and its vivid writing. I learned a lot about recent American history; an American-born reader who is too young to remember Kennedy and Nixon, hippies and weathermen, will reap a similar benefit.

It is a given that a book by someone of Mr. Hertzberg's standing should be a brilliantly polished piece of literature. Poetics, irony, wit, sarcasm and plain lucid logic are masterfully employed, and perfectly fitted to the subject matter: an interview with John Lennon is pure poetry; passionate, argumentative language is used to convey dismay over the flaws in our political system. Descriptive passages are brilliant; and the punch line is always sharp and unexpected.

But aesthetics of writing is not the only attraction of this book.
Read more ›
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Lukas Jackson on September 22, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Hertzberg has to be the preeminent political writer of our time. His writing is always witty and urbane, but also packs a political punch. Thankfully, he doesn't delve into the depths like many political writers at the moment. Instead, he relies on the facts and his wit to make his points, and respects the intelligence of his readers. If you are not familiar with his work, I urge you to pick up a recent issue of "The New Yorker" and read his pieces in "The Talk of the Town" section.

This book is an impressive archive of Hertzberg's writing over the past 40 years. Most of the book consists of his writing in the 1980s for "The New Republic" and his more recent pieces for "The New Yorker." While his writing has always been impressive, I found that it become more cogent, direct and "punchy" as time went on. His articles are organized into a variety of sections, from "Enough About the Sixties" (the hippies and classic rock), "Great Men," (articles on Carter, Reagan, and RFK), to "Judeo-Christians," "Wingers," "Wedge Issues," and "The Wayward Media."

I found "The Ghost in the Machine" section on proportional representation especially interesting. Not only would such a system do away with pointless anachronisms like the electoral college, but it would obviously be more democratic and representative. Unfortunately, we will most likely never see such a system because it is too threatening to the Powers That Be-- namely, the two major political parties. Sadly, we are much more likely to see a constitutional amendment so that a specific Viennese weightlifter can be President.

This book is a treasure trove of wit and wisdom, and I learned a great deal about recent political history reading it. I urge you to add this invaluable resource to your library.
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