Book Review: The Book Of Bastards

The Book Of Bastards:  101 Worst Scoundrels And Scandals From The World Of Politics And Power, by Brian Thornton

I must admit that this was an entertaining book to read, as a person who is somewhat cynical when it comes to questions of power and politics.  That said, this book and others like it suffer from a difficult problem, and that is a certain sense of chronological snobbery that tends to value contemporary scandals as being more severe as well as a certain bias for some administrations (Grant, Harding) and not others (FDR) to be targeted the most when it comes to corrupt deeds.  My own view is that just about any occasion where federal money has been spent or where politically powerful people have sought to abuse their power for personal goals is fair game for a book like this, and make no mistake that this book is certainly rather heavy in its condemnation of sexual scandals (of which there are many) as well as the tendency of some people to have avoided military service by virtue of their economic position.  Even so, this book could have stood to be more than a bit more evenhanded in the way that it dealt with political scandals as there are many such ones that could be chosen, many more than this book does talk about, even if the author does his best to be complete.

This book is a bit more than 200 pages long and it provides 101 American political scandals ranging from early American history to contemporaries at the time this book was written.  There is no Bengazigate or Uranium One or anything more contemporary than about 2008, but that allows the author to talk about John Edwards, Sarah Palin, Mark Sanford, Krl Rove, Eliot Spitzer, and Alberto Gonzales plenty.  To no one’s surprise George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and Colin Powell all show up for their roles in the Iraq War.  Bill and Hillary Clinton show up along with two general Congressional scandals as well as Kenneth Starr and Newt Gingrich.  LBJ, Harry Truman, and Warren Harding as well as Woodrow Wilson show up.  Only a few colonial figures show up, namely Lord De La Warr, the Puritans, Nathaniel Bacon, and New York politico James DeLancey show up, but George Washington, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson all do for one reason or another.  The book is fairly gossipy and contains a mix of personal scandals, general cussedness, as well as ways where people clearly behaved in a corrupt fashion even if they managed to avoid jail time for it generally.

One thing this book does manage to accomplish is to point out the way that American political culture has long involved a certain amount of corruption.  For example, Americans have long been noted to have puritanical ideas about religion as well as a certain moral tone in politics but have not necessarily been that much more moral than other peoples, leading to a wide gap between moralistic rhetoric and corrupt and immoral practice.  This is true whether one looks at the personal lives of politicians who frequently find themselves involved in sexual scandals or in financial shenanigans and other clear examples of influence peddling and shady deals and property speculation, all of which have been pretty rife throughout American history to the present day.  By and large this book is a cynical look at the way in which various American leaders have not been as moral as they are often viewed to be, and the way that many people have violated the public trust and paid little or no price for it except in terms of historical memory by those who seek out the darker side of American politics.  No doubt similar volumes like this could be written for everywhere else in the world.

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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