By the writers of The Daily Show and Jon “Liebowitz” Stweart

Matt Cale loves reading…

At long last, the good folks at Time Warner Book Group have seen fit to send me a book that I had no desire to immediately convert to kindling (I mean really: a business tome called The Feiner Points of Leadership? Are you not aware that I work for Burger King, you twits?) In fact, I was mere days from spending my own money on America (The Book): A Citizen’s Guide to Democracy Inaction,
which says quite a bit, as I am one cheap motherfucker. But as Jon
Stewart’s book is hardly something that is read cover to cover and then
put away, I was willing to break out the wallet just this once.
Inevitably, Stewart’s book will invite comparisons to The Onion,
which in this case is warranted (and a good thing), because like that
long-running satirical rag, it is an equal opportunity offender, while
remaining surprisingly smart and savvy about American politics. This is
not a book, therefore, for the average Joe, unless of course your
typical numbskull in Idaho instinctively “gets” the inherent humor of
the Chester Arthur administration. America (The Book) assumes that you have a rather sophisticated understanding of American history, a point proven by the survey that showed Daily Show
viewers were far more intelligent than the slackjawed set who barked
along with Bill O’Reilly’s program. And while much of America will be
tempted to waste $25 on Bill’s latest screed (this time a book for the
kids, in which he reveals when he lost his virginity, a fact that is
bound to inspire a thunderclap of book-slamming across the country), it
is best to secure a copy of Stewart’s beautifully packaged hardcover.
Even O’Reilly fans can justify a purchase, as the book’s format allows
for, and even encourages, flipping around and skimming, which means
that for once, you won’t have to be embarrassed that you are unable to
complete a book in the order it’s written.

Organized like a textbook (the inside front cover even has the
“This Book is the Property Of” box so familiar to those of us who
actually did homework), America (The Book) is broken down into
nine chapters, complete with charts, graphs, assignments, study
questions, timelines, tidbits, quizzes, cartoons, and numerous photos.
It runs from democracy’s origins in Ancient Greece to the future of
that fragile institution, and is so classy and straight-faced in its
approach that many people might mistake it for the real deal, which (I
suppose) is Stewart’s big joke. As he mocks nearly everything about our
past and present, he gets it right more often than not, which is
another way of saying that despite the obvious fiction, few books have
been as true in spirit. Where else, for example, could we be treated to
a secret memo from a Supreme Court clerk that says the following:

“All I know is, everybody was fucking. Everybody. It was nine heads and 36
tangled limbs intertwined in a writhing, whirling dervish of group sex. Some
guy — a clerk I can only assume — was twanging a sitar off to the side. Once
in a while Scalia would break off from the orgy to cut hunks off a giant brick
of hash with a Bowie knife. Then he remounted Ginsburg.”

And this before Scalia’s real-life public comments about the benefits of orgies! Stewart and company are not only smart, they’re prophetic.

The book also blasts the media, third parties, the two-party
system, voting, and campaigns. And then there’s the all-too-believable
chapter “The Rest of the World: International House of Horrors.” Not
everything works of course, but there’s something to be said for
exploiting cultural stereotypes, making us laugh, and then mocking us
for laughing at such obvious cultural stereotypes. Yes, we nod, the
national pastimes of Latin America are “futbol and irrational emotion.” Or so it would seem. And it seems fair to say of Africa:

“So, is there hope for a truly democratic Africa? Long answer: Only if
continent-wide improvements in education, human rights and public
health are coupled with an aggressive and far-sighted debt-relief
program that breaks the cycle of subsistence farming and urban
squalor. Short answer: No.”

And it was about time that we see all nine Supreme Court Justices
naked, as it confirms what I’ve always believed about Clarence Thomas
(and John Paul Stevens, for that matter). At any rate, Rehnquist’s pose
had me cracking up long after I shut the book. And maybe it takes a
“Senate Color by Numbers” to show how obscenely white that body truly
is. And maybe it’s just me, but I like a mainstream book that has
someone (Stephen Colbert) deadpan, “Warren G. Harding was a worthless
piece of shit. Fuck him. His presidency was a taint, not just in the
sense of a ‘stain on the office,’ but literally a taint — the
anatomical area between the anus and the testicles.” And who knew that
Grover Cleveland was “Our Gayest President,” or that Bill Clinton “Our
Most Kennedyesque,” beating out even Kennedy himself?

Without question, fans of The Daily Show will love every
page of this book, but as I am only a casual viewer (sorry, I should
watch it more often), I can attest to its general appeal. If you’re a
fan of high-brow (but just as frequently juvenile) humor, mixed with
dry wit, sarcasm, and the patently absurd, it’s a great thing to pick
up now and again, from a relaxing day on the couch, to an equally
relaxing hour on the toilet. It plays no favorites, thankfully, but
you’ll pardon me if I find its attacks on Republican saints more
refreshing. When we’re being honest, we all knew the following about
Ronald Reagan:

“(He) knew that unnecessary federal regulation was preventing the
media from reaching its full potential. He also wanted to build lasers
to shoot missiles out of the sky from outer space.”

Dry, reasonable, and academic. And deadly accurate to boot. We laugh, so we do not cry.

About Matt

Matt is the site’s Longest Serving Critic and chief misanthrope. He divides his time between classics of cinema and the most ridiculous movies he can find on Redbox.
Follow Matt: @mattcale52