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You Are What You Read.

Recently, Time magazine released its list of the top 100 English novels from 1923 to the present. You may have seen some discussion of this elsewhere.

I had only read about twenty of them, and mostly for school. It might be a good idea to read at least ten more or so over the next couple of years. Gotta stay culturally literate for a potential Jeopardy appearance down the road, after all.

That Time list is literature.

What about recent political books? They were everywhere in 2003 and 2004, and the ones that got the most free media attention were generally anti-Bush screeds. Each week, a new Bush-bashing book drove the news cycle. There were books by Clintonites, by left-wing activists, and by establishment bureaucrats (often labelled "administration officials").

There were also some pro-Bush books, but they were largely an afterthought. Many were poorly-written, rushed rebuttals to the liberal books. Others were decent, but nothing you couldn't read online.

Buying those books was almost as important to political activists as buying bumper stickers and yard signs.

During the early stages of the campaign, as the Democrats held "debate" after "debate," a.k.a. exhibitions on who could bash the president best or most, the anti-Bush books outsold the pro-Bush books.

At the time, many in the media suggested that the proliferation of anti-Bush books was evidence of a strong, underlying grassroots surge against Bush, and against the GOP. How could these books, one after the next, not persuade Americans to vote Bush out of office? After all, he was an idiot, an evil neocon warmonger, a manipulative genius, a puppet, a bigot, a liar, incompetent, a cowboy, a unilateralist, a job outsourcer, a Christian zealot, and a heartless corportation-loving businessman.

All of those. All at once.

These books, many people predicted, would turn the election. They were supposed to persuade on-the-fence Americans.


These books were read almost unanimously by people who hated Bush already. The average American, generally, does not read books to expand his worldview or learn a new perspective. People, increasingly, read to reinforce their beliefs. That goes for blogs and magazines and newspapers, as well.

Take a look at the social network for recent political books (click for larger version:


The purple ovals are books that I read.

Conservative social network books-

I. A National Party No More: The Conscience of a Conservative Democrat.

By Zell Miller, of course. This book SHOULD be a must read for Democrats, if they care about improving their electoral chances.

II. Bias: A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distort the News.

This book is great. The title explains it all. If you still feel the networks are fair and/or balanced, read this book and get back to me.

III. Bush Country.

A so-so book. Sort of weak, actually.

IV. Ten Minutes from Normal.

Karen Hughes' book. It's decent, but I don't think I was the target audience as a young male.


Liberal social network books-

I. Bushwhacked : Life in George W. Bush's America.

This book is atrociously bad. Just a lot of anger, no facts. Lots of lies. Just bad.

II. Dude, Where's My Country?

Michael Moore at his worst.

III. MoveOn's 50 Ways to Love Your Country.

#51- Move on, already.

IV. Plan of Attack.

Funny enough, this book was listed on the Bush campaign website as a recommended book. But it had a few mildly controversial items the media focused on, so it became a big seller on the left.

V. Stupid White Men.

Michael Moore again. Blah. Terrible.

VI. The Great Unraveling.

Paul Krugman. An attempt to run down the booming economy and blame Bush for everything that went wrong with the economy from about 1998 through much of his first term. Lots of predictions that have been very, very wrong.


Non-aligned social network books-

I. Colossus.

A nice book. Lots of statistics and such. The thesis of the book is that the world is best when America leads, and Americans shouldn't shy away from their duty to do just that. Also, lots of focus on America's unsustainable entitlement programs.

II. Bush at War.

The earlier Woodward book, it's just a nice look at Bush after 9/11.

III. Rise of the Vulcans.

Leftists were probably disappointed to read this book and not find any damning "neocon cabal" references. It is mostly just a flattering look at the brilliance and talent of the president's advisors.

IV. All The Shah's Men.

CIA, Iran, espionage, revolution, and so on. What's not to like?

V. Ghost Wars.

Same deal. An interesting look at some of the stuff we never hear about. But there is most certainly a war on terror raging underground. And we're generally winning.

VI. Charlie Wilson's War.

A fantastic book written pre-9/11, it tries to take credit away from Ronald Reagan for bringing down the Soviet Union. Interestingly, it gushingly gives credit to Charlie Wilson, an East Texas Democrat, and his CIA buddy. Sound like not exactly the type of book I would like? Just read it. It's surprisingly great stuff.


For me, it's interesting and a bit surprising that I read nearly all of the "middle" books and so few of the conservative books. For the most part, those middle books are far more worthwhile than the others. The worst of the lot, of course, were the left-wing books, which were riddled with factual errors, seething with bitterness, and just otherwise terrible. But people kept buying them and presumably reading them.

In 2006 and 2008, you can bet that there will once again be a proliferation of books that have compartmentalized readership.

So what does this tell us?

Polarization is real. In many ways, there are two Americas. And it is evidenced by all the things people read (not just books). We could be moving toward a country without any consensus media sources both sides of the aisle can agree are trustworthy and fair and accurate.

That's not exactly a great thing.

Posted by Will Franklin · 20 October 2005 08:53 PM


Um.......... wow! Great post!

Posted by: Daniel at October 20, 2005 10:38 PM


Excellent post. The visual graphic was very interesting (makes me want the software, but since they don't list a price, it has to be extremely expensive) and it was interesting to see we read a good deal of overlapping books.

I think the true winner in all of this is Bob Woodward. He did an excellent job of writing two books during the Bush administration that both sides were very interested in reading. His ability to get inside accounts of events makes for a fast, riveting read.

Kind regards,

Bill Rice

Posted by: Bill Rice at October 21, 2005 12:01 AM

I'll second Daniel's comment - great post!

You might want to reconsider your reading list to make room for some of NRO's top 100 non-fiction books.

I do dispute their selection for #1. Churchill's Second World War ought to count for at least 6 books (all in the top slots, naturally!)

Posted by: Ironman at October 21, 2005 12:12 AM

You read two(!) Michael Moore books? My hat's off to you. I bet you had a splitting headache after each.

Great post. Did you also read the follow-up Goldberg book, Arrogance? It was also worthy.

Posted by: Giacomo at October 21, 2005 05:40 AM

I think I'm going to have to disagree with you on several points here.

1. Are you saying that these books had zero influence? We can't know what affect these books had on the election, since we can't exactly study the same election again with these books removed (and I would add Unfit for Command, by the way).

2. I also think the fact that you yourself read several of the anti-Bush books argues against your statement, "[t]hese books were read almost unanimously by people who hated Bush already." I also read an equal number from both sides.

3. About that "consensus media," I'm not sure there ever was one. Since our founding, there have always been forces on the right and the left, but for a good part of our recent past, most media favored the center-left or left. Now the situation is leveling a bit, with blogs and talk radio and fox news and conservative films starting out... and I think that's simply returning us to a point in America where multiple views have a chance to reach out and make their case; I think that's a remarkably good thing.

Posted by: Mick Wright at October 21, 2005 07:49 AM

Mick Wright, I believe his point was that most of the books were poorly written in order to reinforce the author and readers already formed opinions!...Polarization is real and both sides of the aisle need to come together for a united America... Also Will has quite an appetite for knowlege that might come in handy for Jeopardy...

Posted by: Zsa Zsa at October 21, 2005 08:32 AM

Mick, you and I are not average folks. We are both the exception to the "almost unanimous" bit.

But yeah, I'd say the books had almost no influence on the election(s) in 2004, in terms of actually persuading people.

And I generally agree with your #3. But it may not be a good thing when we have no "middle ground" kind of media to turn to. And unfortunately, I think the proliferation of talk radio, conservative blogs, and Fox News (which I personally think has an overblown reputation for being "right wing") has emboldened the already liberal media to become even more left-wing. "For balance," they push the agenda further than they ever did.

I just worry that we'll start having political discussions and debates in this country where nobody even agrees on the facts. It gets to that whole "you are entitled to your own opinions, but not your own facts" thing.

We're already getting to a point where everyone speaks a different political language. I've found it increasingly difficult to talk to or persuade diehard anti-Bush folks. They are in their own world. They're just out there. And these are just regular partisans, not necessarily fringe weirdoes.

I can really just see a presidential debate in 2012 or 2016 or so with the candidates "debating" like ships passing in the night. Each won't even know what the other is talking about, because there's no common media source.

The media polarization perpetuates and entrenches the bitter political polarization.

That being said, Mick, your #3 is still right. It could be a good thing in a lot of ways. There are just a lot of downsides to the media polarization.

Posted by: Will Franklin at October 21, 2005 11:49 AM

I think Zell Miller's book about the state of Democrats was right on target as far as the Democratic Party no longer being truly national. As conservative Democrat, I was disappointed that Zell destroyed his credibility within the party by speaking at the Republican National Convention. There is no obligation for a Democratic Senator (or a Republican Senator) to actively campaign for or even endorse the candidate of their party, however, Miller's zealous support of Bush discredited him as a figure within the Democratic Party. I think that he could have accomplished a lot more by working to rebuild the moderate and conservative wing of the Democratic Party. A lot of rank and file Democrats have mainstream values - it's the Moveonner Left which controls the party that is out of touch.

Posted by: Right Democrat at October 22, 2005 10:09 AM