Book Review: Dreamers And Deceivers

Dreamers And Deceivers:  True Stories Of The Heroes And Villains Who Made America, by Glenn Beck

I was loaned this book from a friend of mine at church this past Sabbath as is sometimes the case [1], and when I set about to read it, I was both pleased that it was a very easy book to read and enjoyable told, and also appreciative of the ironies involved in this book.  There are several of them.  For one, the author muses at the beginning of the book that Steve Jobs, one of the dreamers discussed positively in this book for his work at Pixar as well as his use of the apple with one bite taken out of it in honor of Alan Turing, also discussed in some detail in this book [2], had once sought to get the author fired from Fox News.  Clearly, Glen Beck is not someone to hold a grudge.  There are some stories filled with irony, such as the progressive president Woodrow Wilson showing decidedly not progressive views on race and gender, dismissing the equality of both women and blacks, and then ironically enough having his presidency depend on his capable second wife running the show after he suffered from a massive stroke while seeking in vain to have the Versailles Treaty passed by the Senate without reservations, as well as his discussion of a relatively honest president smearing the reputation of an even more honest reporter in order to preserve his second term political agenda, which would have been ruined had he admitted to being treated for cancer.  Even more than these bits of irony, though, the book as a whole has a large irony in that it seeks to present true stories of important Americans even as the author, in the appendix, freely and openly admits to having invented dialogue based on a true story, and that this work is in fact a work of fiction.  The author’s claim to have told true stories must therefore be taken with more than grain of salt–this book may be based on true stories, but the claims of this book to be nonfiction are at least a little bit deceptive, making the author one of the dreamers and deceivers he writes about.

The roughly 300 pages of this book are made up of ten chapters as well as some deeply interesting supplementary material that lays out in detail what sources the author used to construct his semi-factual narratives and where the author took liberty with the facts in order to write a compelling story.  The ten chapters include detailed stories about the following people, some of them famous and some unjustly obscure:  Grover Cleveland, suicidal radio pioneer Edwin Howard Armstrong, Woodrow Wilson, famed scammer extraordinaire Charles Ponzi, Desi Arnaz, deceptive socialist Upton Sinclair, Alan Turing, Communist spy Alger Hiss, Walt Disney, and Pixar’s Steve Jobs and John Lasseter.  Many of the stories deal with the frustrations that people feel who dream big and who have to run up against big business, or those who have had great reputations due to the support of the American liberal establishment whose good reputations are at least partly undeserved, or those who engaged in massive efforts of deception.  The stories are well-written, and any of them could serve as a good treatment for a biographical film of the people being written about.

What sort of verdict does this book deserve?  If one views it as history–and the book claims to be a biographical work, then the book is heavily deceptive, since few readers are likely to read past the appendix and see he frequent imaginings the author admits to in constructing the material of the book.  For those readers who do see the book as fictional but interesting, and who find the style of the author to be pleasing to read, even if there is clearly some making up going on, this book can be enjoyed as a pleasant sort of biographical novel.  Much will depend on the extent the reader is willing to forgive an author who comes down rather harshly on those who engaged in deceptive storytelling to further their own careers or save their own reputations or promote their own political agendas.  It is curious to think of how the author rationalizes making up a narrative in order to make a story more compelling in light of his criticisms of others for doing the same thing as politicians or journalists, but fortunately not something the reader needs to know in order to put this work in its proper place.

[1] See, for example:

[2] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in American History, Book Reviews, History and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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