A Colossal Wreck: A Road Trip Through Political Scandal, Corruption, And American Culture, by Alexander Cockburn
This book was a colossal wreck, so I can’t exactly call it false advertising. That doesn’t mean that this book was anything other than a joyless slog through one snobby, effete Englishman’s not very insightful dribbling about American culture and politics. There are so many ways this book could have been good, but all of them would have required that someone else other than the author himself was writing them. In some ways, I can empathize with the author as someone who was trying to be a woke political blogger and prolific book reviewer in the age before the internet took off, when all he had was writing to various leftist rags like the Village Voice as a way of keeping his name and writing before the eye of appreciative readers without very much sense or taste. Much of this writing has the quality of hastily written blog posts from someone who thinks he is a lot more intelligent and insightful than he actually is, which could probably be said about most contemporary blogerati and this book was put together from years worth of writing by someone who thought that this writing deserved a bigger audience, for reasons I find baffling.
This book is introduced by the late author’s son, who tries to paint this as something other than a disastrous collection of writings, and the materials are almost 600 pages long and divided into three parts. The first part of the book covers Clinton’s presidency, specifically the years between 1995 and 2000. Here the author shows pity on Clinton for having to sneak sex with Monica and shows a characteristic obsession with leftist politics that are so extreme that he sees little difference between Democrats and Republicans as well as an obsession with sex of various kinds (especially homosexual, for reasons he explains in the book relating to the hostility of the Oxbridge elite of his time to conventional morality). The second part of the book contains the author’s puerile dribbles about Bush’s presidency and various libels about his intellect. While the author is most interested in politics, he frequently also shows an interest in literature and history, where he shows a casual anti-Zionist anti-Semitism and a predictable hostility to Christianity and a total lack of interest in flyover country. The book then ends with a third part that focuses on Obama’s presidency (and the author is rather harsh about Obama), after which the author’s daughter writes an afterword and there is an index.
Ultimately, this book is filth, and not even very interesting filth. There is enough in this book that it is clear that the author could have written good material. He is certainly well-educated and well-read, and might have been a witty conversation partner when he wasn’t looking down on Americans because of our characteristic middle-class ways (which he, as a limey aristocrat, looked down on), wasn’t talking about politics (where his leftism is particular pronounced), or wasn’t talking about sex or religion (where his views are simply submoronic). Ultimately, this doesn’t lead to very many things to talk about, and thus there isn’t much in this massive book that is enjoyable at all. Unless you are a fellow traveler with the author or think that someone from the Village Voice deserves to have their scribbling immortalized, this is a book you can safely pass. Reading this book is far more punishment than pleasure, and while I learned a lot about the author’s way of thinking, and why it is that he chose not to resist the corrupt and decadent culture of the time, it is a shame he did not resist. The fact that the man served as a mascot for the decline of Western Civilization made this book fascinating to read as a cultural study, but deeply unpleasant from a moral one.