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Scorpion Tongues New and Updated Edition: Gossip, Celebrity, and American Politics Paperback – Bargain Price, January 30, 2007

4.3 out of 5 stars 21 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

If you think the stories about Bill Clinton are outrageous, Gail Collins has some tales that will really burn your ears. Scandalous rumors have been a part of American politics since the days of George Washington's alleged mistresses and Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings. Grover Cleveland was rumored to have beaten his wife so severely during her pregnancy that their daughter was born with extensive brain damage. When Woodrow Wilson proposed to his second wife, a popular joke claimed, she was so surprised that she fell out of bed. And John Fremont's 1856 run for office was destroyed by repeated whisperings that he was, variously, illegitimate, Catholic, and a cannibal. Collins insightfully traces the relationship between gossip and government from an era when politics was the national pastime to the present blurring of the lines between politicians and celebrities. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

From Kirkus Reviews

If you think President Clinton is engulfed in rumor and innuendo, consider John Fremont. A presidential candidate in the early 19th century, he was rumored to be a cannibal and a Roman Catholic, the latter charge proving more damaging to his campaign. This is but one anecdote from Collins's fascinating, hilarious, and at times insightful study of the role of rumor in US politics. Gossip about politicians is as old as the nation itself, the content of such gossip can tell us much about our anxieties, our hatreds as a nation. Race and sexual malfeasance have been constants, yet have resonated more strongly at different times. Hamilton defended himself against charges of corruption by proving he was an adulterernot a tactic likely To work today. Fremont was undone by a strong anti-Irish sentiment in an era of rapidly escalating immigration. Newspapers in the 19th century, less concerned with respectability than with pleasing a politicized readership and perhaps gaining political favor, could and would print anything about a politician. As newspapers became more respectable in the 20th century, they also became more circumspect in their reporting. The private lives of politicians tended to remain private and became idealized by the public (as with FDR and JFK). This changed in the 1970s. Outlets for gossip began to proliferatesupermarket tabloids, cable TV, the Internet, talk radio. At the same time, politicians increasingly sold themselves as personalities, inviting speculation and investigation into their private lives. The idealized became tarnished. Yet the sheer amount of gossip (and real transgressions of politicians) have left us so cynical as to be surprised or outraged by very little. To thrive, gossip must have rules of behavior to be broken. Such rules are now missing or unclear, and this may prove to be the demise of political gossip. The book does go on (25 pages on Grover Cleveland is quite enough), but Collins, a veteran political observer and a member of the New York Times editorial board, offers a good read that puts present political scandals into historical perspective. -- Copyright ©1998, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Updated edition (January 30, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061139629
  • ASIN: B001G8WPY4
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,508,134 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By John G. Hilliard on April 19, 2002
Format: Paperback
This book is the greatest hits album of professional political muckrakers. Just when you think that they can not come up with something more despicable you turn the page and - bang, one more story full of lies and broken careers. The author lays the book out chronologically so that we start with the founding father and the hits just keep on coming all the way to the current high level of performance. If you are interested in politics and follow the scene then this book is not some much shocking as it is full of "that's where they got it from". If politics is a new hobby then your opinion of these stand up citizens will not drop lower. Overall, this is a fun book that you finish quite quickly
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Format: Paperback
Gail Collins kept me alternately laughing or spellbound with her chronology of rumor and innuendo whispered through the ages down America's corridors of power. A must read for anyone who loves American history, public relations, or just "good dirt," Collins defines the issues behind scandals and discusses why certain gossip either grabs our attention or fails to take hold. I had a blast learning with this one. Thanks, Gail!
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Format: Paperback
Gail Collins' Scorpion Tongues is, according to its subtitle, the irrestible history of gossip in American politics, and that is exactly what it is. It will be just right for the reader who will want to settle down and take pleasure in all the mud slinging of the past and for a chance to realize that neither times nor people change all that much. The book does try to give a spin to the stories in order to justify the book on more enlightened grounds of trying to show historical patterns and different eras and forms of gossip. But that is not why people are reading this book and that is not why the readers will be passing this book to their friends. It's the gossip, stupid. A scandal filled romp through American history.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a very readable and informative book about the parts of American History that never appear in the official school books. And not because of its unimportance! There's the story of Peggy Eaton, and how she caused the Civil War (p.43). How William Chancellor's home was raided by Secret Service agents who forced him to burn his papers; later the FBI seized copies of his book from libraries, stores, and salesmen, even confiscating and destroying the publication plates without any legal authorization (p.127). How the Republican National Committee shipped Harding's mistress and husband on an all-expenses-paid trip to the Far East in 1920, and a $2000 monthly payoff in hush money.
The author says that newspapers of the 1920s kept the stories about Harding unpublished because "there was no real appetite for that kind of story" (p.130). I think its more likely that 1) we now had a "secret police on the European model", and 2) the increasing monopolization of newspapers allowed more control and censorship. Some may think only some weekly newspapers market scandals, but don't recognize this as a niche market. The facts that supermarkets nationwide were told to market weekly tabloids around 1967 isn't mentioned, or the cause.
The book says movie stars replaced politicians (and the rich?) in the 1920s as objects of gossip. When Fatty Arbuckle was found not guilty of murder on the third trial after six minutes of deliberation the press wondered "about what was wrong with the system of justice and whether it was possible for a celebrity to get a fair trial in America" (p.140).
Pages 144-5 tell of the rumors and gossip about FDR: he was a drunk, going insane, addicted to drugs, even that he was a "hopeless, helpless invalid".
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Format: Paperback
Gail Gleason Collins has written a marvelous account of the gestation of the media as the filters through which politicians are made or not made into statesmen and stateswomen. She has included a weary but never wearying catalogue of the lubricity of American leaders of past and present. It is a book about sex and scandal--mostly scandal--the birth and life and death of gossip in the United States, ending with a question for the future: a cynical American people tiptoeing through the wreckage of a "role model theory" of American leadership, or a new public idealism which may ignore peccadilloes in favor of real issues. I think it was the English historian Lord Bryce who said of the American Commonwealth, in contrast to English scandals which were usually about sex, that American scandals were usually about money. Gail Collins shows the inaccuracy of that statement--how much more important have the Gennifer Flowers, Paula Jones, et al "bimbo eruptions" of the present decade been to the media and to the inert public than have the colossal wastage of public funds via the S&L bailout? In my Political Corruption seminar, which concentrates on money corruption of the past, my students were delighted with Gail Collins' book--much more than the econometrically "boring" tome of Professor Susan Rose-Ackerman. So am I--she set out to show the role of gossip in politics, and very accurately depicts the commanding role of the media, given the decline of the political party as moderator. Or perhaps she really shows the death of the non-yellow press as medium between citizen and government, and the advent of Internet dominance.Read more ›
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