I received a wonderful and totally unexpected Christmas present the other day when I got this note from a writer in Los Angeles named Chris Farnsworth. “Mr. Malanowski,” he begins. “I don’t usually write the authors of books to tell them how much I enjoyed their works — I’m a writer also, and I’m usually far too petty and small for that. But I tore through The Coup in one sitting. It was hellaciously funny and smart, and I was reminded of the best parts of Thank You For Smoking. Thanks for writing it.” No, Chris, thank you–thanks for reading the book, and thanks for the encouragement. (By the way, here’s the solved mystery: Chris blogs for bigaction.com, and is surely the author of the holiday recommendation mentioned a couple of posts ago. Heed this man!)


Dana Milbank, a correspondent for The Washington Post, has just published Homo Politicus, a smart and very funny tour d’horizon of Washington and the people there who run our government. In the book, Milbank adopts the guise of an anthropologist to examine their culture and behavior, a very clever and revealing way to think afresh behavior we often swallow as par for the course. Milbank interrupted his coverage of the campaigning in Iowa to answer some of our questions, in an interview originally published on playboy.com:

PLAYBOY: Congratulations on your book! It’s kind of devastating to liken our wise and eminent leaders to guys who wear grass skirts and coconut bras. How did you get the idea for this approach?
MILBANK: As someone who wears a coconut bra most weekends, I never thought of my treatment of Potomac Man as Devastating. I see myself as a foreign correspondent, sending dispatches home to normal Americans about the curious creatures who live in the capital. When Bill Thomas at Doubleday suggested an anthropological twist on this notion and proposed calling it Homo Politicus, I jumped at the idea, in part because I figured the confusion caused by the title could boost sales in places such as DuPont Circle. And while my anthropological skills are admittedly suspect, I think it’s beyond dispute that Washington people exhibit many traits in common with cultures we consider primitive: tribalism (partisanship),violence (political campaigns), and hunting and gathering (inserting earmarks in spending bills). Continue reading “AN INTERVIEW WITH DANA MILBANK”


David Weinstein of Carle Place, Long Island, has written a largely favorable review of The Coup on epinions.com. An apparently unstoppable reading machine, this review is but one of 167 commentaries that he has posted, critiques that have earned him the trust of 69 members of the community (although it’s not clear whether one review was trusted by 69 people, or one by 34 people and another by 35, or what.) David says “This book has great characterization. . . . [and] seems to have all the ingredients of a good political thriller.” On the other hand, David say he was never really sure if the Vice President will be a better or worse President than the current one. I’m not enough on his side to root for him, but he’s too sympathetic (and the President too flawed) for him to be a character I love to hate. I think that’s why the tension flagged for me in the middle of the book.” Despite this, David gives the book his recommendation.

I’m sorry that David’s unsureness about Godwin detracted from his enthusiasm for the book, but for what it’s worth, I’m not unhappy that he felt that kind of unsureness. I want readers to be unsure what to feel about Godwin. I want them to feel charmed by him but put off by what he does, yet to feel that he has some justification for his acts. In just the same way, I want them to feel disdain for Jack, or at least disenchantment, but at the same time to feel sympathy for him, to think of him as a victim. And I also want readers to have complex and conflicted feelings about Maggie, the reporter whose goals and methods are never simple.

In many ways, engendering these conflicted feelings is what I’m trying to accomplish in this book. For democracy to work, citizens must keep a constant watch on their leaders. I think all too often we just pick a side, and ascribe all good things to the guys on our side, and all bad things to the guys in opposition. What we really need to do is train a skeptical eye on everybody all the time–and still assume that they’re getting away with something.

Anyway, thanks David, for reading the book and recommending it.

(A few days later, David responded via email: “I’ve been thinking about what you said. You’re right about the media, which also plays a much larger role in your book than my review. I hope you’ll skewer some bloggers in your next book, because a whole bunch of them will be nodding their heads in sage agreement which isn’t totally earned. Some would sleep with their sources if they could get them interested.Good point about the way we look at ‘our’ politicians. I suppose it’s emotional. Conservatives who don’t trust Bush to nominate {Harriet] Miers will say he’s done wonderfully when liberals criticize his conduct of the war. I haven’t actually seen anyone go down the list of Clinton’s last minute pardons and explain why they were all acts of statesmanship, but there are plenty of people much less angry than they would be at Bush (either Bush) I’ll be looking for your next book!”)


Among the contributors to The Concord Monitor of New Hampshire who last week were asked to name their favorite books of the year was my friend Rebecca Lavoie, who nominated The Coup. “In an age in which satire seems almost superfluous,” writes Rebecca, “The Coup manages the near-impossible, delivering a satisfying and indulgent fictional spin on today’s political environment that packages sex, intrigue and smarts in a neat tale.” Thanks, Rebecca. The Coup‘s inclusion on The Monitor‘s list puts it in some rare company; also named were Away, by Amy Bloom; On Writing, by Stephen King (him again!); The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, by Michael Chabon; The Andromeda Strain, by Michael Crichton; The Golden Notebook, by Doris Lessing (yeah, me and the Nobel Prizewinner, Living Free or Dying together in the Granite State); Chesil Beach, by Ian McEwan; The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards; Day of Battle, by Rick Atkinson; A Long Way Gone, by Ishamel Beah; The Autobiography of Malcolm X; A Rumor of War, by Philip Caputo, and Quo Vadis by Henryk Sienkiewicz;among many others. For the full list and the accompanying love letters, go here. Continue reading “MAKING LISTS THAT ARE NOT NAUGHTY, JUST NICE”