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Great Moments in New York Press

Matt Taibbi's review of Tom Friedman's new book is, indeed, very funny, but it's by no means "the funniest and sharpest-knifed book review I've ever read". Take a look at Mark Ames' classic joint review of Lords of Chaos: The Bloody Rise of the Satanic Metal Underground, by Michael Moynihan and Didrik Søderlind, and An End to Evil: How to Win the War on Terror, by Richard Perle and David Frum. The conceit alone is priceless.

April 22, 2005 | Permalink

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Comments

Perhaps Ezra doesn't read many book reviews. The Taibbi piece isn't even as funny as other Taibbi pieces. And giving such praise for a snarky review of a Friedman book? Talk about shooting fish in a barrel...

And assuming you aren't forced to read or listen to him, is there anything sadder than Tom Friedman? Here's a guy who had a single good idea in his life, and will spend the rest of his life attempting to shoehorn all of human existence into that one idea. If he weren't being paid handsomely, it really would be quite pathological.

Posted by: Petey | Apr 22, 2005 1:27:22 AM

Ah, what was this one good idea? "Globalization"?

Is the answer Japan?

Posted by: SamAm | Apr 22, 2005 1:30:44 AM

I dunno -- yours is conceptually better, but I think Taibbi's is still funnier. Now, you're not going to catch me calling Taibbi's piece an intellectual triumph, as Petey notes, all he really did was sit on an already-inflated whoopie cushion. Nevertheless, he did it masterfully, and anyone who can write sentences this funny deserves entry into the Valhalla of the journalistic set:

"On page 174, Friedman is describing a flight he took on Southwest Airlines from Baltimore to Hartford, Connecticut. (Friedman never forgets to name the company or the brand name; if he had written The Metamorphosis, Gregor Samsa would have awoken from uneasy dreams in a Sealy Posturepedic.) Here's what he says:

'I stomped off, went through security, bought a Cinnabon, and glumly sat at the back of the B line, waiting to be herded on board so that I could hunt for space in the overhead bins.'

Forget the Cinnabon. Name me a herd animal that hunts. Name me one.

This would be a small thing were it not for the overall pattern. Thomas Friedman does not get these things right even by accident. It's not that he occasionally screws up and fails to make his metaphors and images agree. It's that he always screws it up. He has an anti-ear, and it's absolutely infallible; he is a Joyce or a Flaubert in reverse, incapable of rendering even the smallest details without genius."

Brings a tear to my eye.

Posted by: Ezra | Apr 22, 2005 1:35:17 AM

Does Friedman know they don't even have those kind of moustaches in the Castro anymore?

Posted by: Robin the Hood | Apr 22, 2005 2:29:38 AM

My reaction is almost the opposite of Petey's. As Taibbi goes, this is good, but it far from atones for his legacy of smug, content-free glorifications of himself (see, e.g., "Clark's True Colors" in the Nation. Taibbi spends much of the time recounting his painfully unfunny semi-pranks on Clark staffers and volunteers and then closes with analysis I'd expect from a high school Naderite.).

I also question the legitimacy of the "mixed metaphor" criticism. In most of these instances, Friedman isn't using metaphors at all - he's using well-recognized secondary meanings of words. There's absolutely nothing wrong with his choices of "herd" and "hunt" in the above sentence - both words have dictionary-accepted generalized meanings that describe the activities he wishes to describe. The fact that both also have narrower meanings that, if used, would create a mixed metaphor doesn't show that Friedman made a mistake - it shows that those weren't the meanings intended.

I don't tend to like Tom Friedman. But there's something a little sad about correcting people on their language when the language isn't actually wrong.

That was a sentence fragment, by the way. Tell Matt Taibbi.

Posted by: Eli (creepandblink) | Apr 22, 2005 2:56:49 AM

"the funniest and sharpest-knifed book review I've ever read"

My vote goes to Mark Twain's "Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses."

Posted by: Delicious Pundit | Apr 22, 2005 2:59:23 AM

The Taibbi review was funny as heck. I liked the part quoted by Ezra above. But also the part near the end:

His description of the early 90s:

The walls had fallen down and the Windows had opened, making the world much flatter than it had ever been—but the age of seamless global communication had not yet dawned.

How the fuck do you open a window in a fallen wall? More to the point, why would you open a window in a fallen wall? Or did the walls somehow fall in such a way that they left the windows floating in place to be opened?

is priceless.

Posted by: raj | Apr 22, 2005 3:13:38 AM

Both reviews strike me as being mostly 'shooting fish in a barrel' (an image that never made sense to me - unless fish stew was the desired result, lead flavored).

I'm all for ridicule as a way of taking down something so outrageous that straight talk doesn't do it justice. Parts of Frum/Perle review do this well on the adolescent humiliations projected on them. But not enough was said by Ames about the actual policy recommendations of Perle/Frum, IMO. The real beauty of Ames takedown was tying the Satanic metal guys to Perle and Frum.

In Friedman's case, the ridicule was focused on language use, and not much on his actual ideas (if there were any serious ideas worth discussing).

Neither review struck me as worthy of the 'funniest and sharpest knife'. Surely someone has done better than these two (not having read the Twain review mentioned above).

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Apr 22, 2005 3:19:13 AM

"Thomas Friedman does not get these things right even by accident. It's not that he occasionally screws up and fails to make his metaphors and images agree. It's that he always screws it up. He has an anti-ear, and it's absolutely infallible; he is a Joyce or a Flaubert in reverse, incapable of rendering even the smallest details without genius."

Am I the only one confused by the last sentence in this passage? Certainly, it strikes me as quite an awkward construction, seeming to suggest that Friedman can not help but render detail with genius.

Posted by: seank | Apr 22, 2005 5:16:09 AM

"Am I the only one confused by the last sentence in this passage? Certainly, it strikes me as quite an awkward construction, seeming to suggest that Friedman can not help but render detail with genius."

You are only confused because you are not wearing the Mustache of Understanding.

Posted by: Petey | Apr 22, 2005 5:30:20 AM

He meant "perverse genius", Seank. Personally, though -- in an age run by the Bushites, their religious-fanatic backers, and Pope Ratzo -- I find it easy to forgive someone like Friedman for literary and intellectual mediocrity if he shows any sense whatsoever.

And, yes, "Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses" -- and Twain's follow-up piece, "Cooper's Prose Style", which you can find in his collection "Letters From the Earth" -- are maybe the funniest book reviews ever written. (They're not any funnier, however, than Bret Harte's parody of Cooper, "Muck-A-Muck", which you can find in Dwight Macdonald's 1960 anthology "Parodies". Cooper brought out the best in humorists.)

Posted by: Bruce Moomaw | Apr 22, 2005 5:52:01 AM

Mat, you need to link to the Economist review which is a rare hatchet job against Friedman. Me likey.

Posted by: Nick Kaufman | Apr 22, 2005 6:17:39 AM

"Forget the Cinnabon. Name me a herd animal that hunts. Name me one. "

Lions.

Posted by: Nick Kaufman | Apr 22, 2005 6:19:25 AM

You can find much more of Mark Ames' excellent stuff here. Enjoy.

Posted by: abb1 | Apr 22, 2005 7:30:06 AM

Thanks for the link to the Ames review. Truly funny, though a little predictable.

Here's a link to the Twain review of Cooper.

Posted by: litho | Apr 22, 2005 7:31:23 AM

I thought of lions, too, but lions don't really "herd," nor is the collective "herd of lions." I mean, you don't hear about drovers taking 2000 head of prime big cat meat down to the feed lots, do you?

In any case, my favorite, funny book review is Chris Buckley's legendary takedown of Tom Clancy's Debt of Honor, which is still available on the Times website for those who wish to pay for it, or in Wry Martinis for those who will go to their local bookstore or library.

Posted by: Brian C.B. | Apr 22, 2005 8:39:41 AM

That GYWO is pretty good, too.

Posted by: Brian C.B. | Apr 22, 2005 8:42:08 AM

my favorite, funny book review is Chris Buckley's legendary takedown of Tom Clancy's Debt of Honor, which is still available on the Times website for those who wish to pay for it Naah, the best and perhaps (although I doubt it) funniest review of Clancy was when none other than the late Patrick O'Brian reviewed Sum of All Fears in the Washington Post. It was clear he didn't like the book, but he was almost channeling Stephen Maturin in the dry, saturnine way in which he expressed it.

Posted by: Colin | Apr 22, 2005 9:20:14 AM

> none other than the late Patrick O'Brian reviewed
> Sum of All Fears in the Washington Post.

Is that available on-line?

Cranky

Posted by: Cranky Observer | Apr 22, 2005 9:44:58 AM

Name me a herd animal that hunts. Name me one

Lots of herd animals hunt ... just for things other than other animals to eat. They junt for new pastureland. They hunt for places to sleep. They hunt for a mate. Etc.

Moreover, what does the passage have to do with animals?

Gee, I am hunting for the best word to use in this sentence. Matt Taibbi's asinine reply: Name me one animal that uses sentences. Name one.

Really, is this the type of review that passes for funny among the young lefties? It is about as stupid as you can get.

Hell, I don't like Friedman either. He's sometimes OK on foreign policy, but his knee-jerk liberalism on everything else makes him difficult to read. As if Bush's tax cut were preventing us from winning the war on terror. Duh. But the review is just bad, bad, bad.

Posted by: Al | Apr 22, 2005 10:00:12 AM

I found the Taibbi review completely worthless. Who is considering reading Friedman's book on the literary merits?

It's too bad the Norwegian metal book is too old to mention Gorgoroth's infamous Krakow concert featuring four crucified naked people smeared with sheep's blood. Alas, I am having trouble finding pictures. Here's one.

Posted by: Allen K. | Apr 22, 2005 10:11:49 AM

Count me as one of the people who probably keeps Tom Friedman in his job. I don't now why, but I like his mixed metaphors. But overall, I enjoy his world view, whether I agree or not in some places.

Relax on the whole world is flat thing. I haven't yet read the book, but I think Taibbi has it all wrong. Who knows, we'll see when I read the book.

The idea isn't that people on opposite ends of the flat world have to travel larger distances to get to each other. Its that there are no more mountainous differences. The US for example, used to be at the top of the mountain. Now the playing field has been leveled and we can communicate with greater ease, as opposed to us throwing rocks down at them and they floating balloons to get to us.

How is that for a mixed metaphor. I doesn't even make sense!

Posted by: Adrock | Apr 22, 2005 11:03:57 AM

"This book fills a much-need void" still gets it done for me. I cannot remember to what its referring. I Googled "fills...void" and found a review of a handgun that worked that one in--praising the weapon.

Posted by: Something Polish | Apr 22, 2005 11:23:16 AM

Al:

Gee, I am hunting for the best word to use in this sentence.

Oh, thank you Al! I never think you can become any stupider, and THEN YOU DO.

The most beautiful part, of course, is your total obliviousness. Even now I imagine you reading this with a look of dull bovine incomprehension on your face. Ah, how you make me laugh.

Posted by: grh | Apr 22, 2005 11:35:33 AM

Even now I imagine you reading this with a look of dull bovine incomprehension on your face.

Yes, please explain... for the sake of us bovines!

Posted by: Al | Apr 22, 2005 12:09:27 PM

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