After Donald Trump’s human smokescreen Kellyanne Conway famously announced that the president was simply presenting the world with “alternative facts”, the connection was quickly made to George Orwell’s 1984. There’s good reason for this. (And while one should be happy for any resulting increase in sales of the book, we shouldn’t presume that it will be any guide to the remaining years of the Trump presidency. More on that below.)
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On 9 November 2016, Donald Trump won the electoral college both on the strength of and in spite of a campaign built upon bigoted, misogynistic, and racist rhetoric. In response, AntiBookClub—a small independent publishing company operating under a progressive, reformist platform—released an “open letter” to Penguin-Random House directly urging the company to stop representing Trump. In an eloquently stated passage, the letter advises:
As an influencer in the publishing world, your continued financial support through the sales of his book sends a message to your readers that you condone his racism, his misogyny, and his contempt for people of different nationalities and religions.
Back when publishers still released books about Iraq, Thomas Ricks wrote a pair of them that were forward-thinking for the time but now look powerfully prescient. Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2003 to 2005 (2006) was a damning an indictment of the Bush / Cheney / Rumsfeld crew’s excited rush to war and then seeming boredom with the details of actually managing it. It wasn’t the first book to lay out that case, but given the depth of Ricks’s reporting and his lack of ideological cant (which hampered a number of other books on the Iraq fisaco), it was one of the most definitive and difficult to dispute.
It was Fiasco’s less-celebrated 2009 companion volume, however, that truly stands out today.
Since I have commenced writing a new novel, I have been forced on a literary diet: most novels and other works of fiction have been strictly eliminated from my daily intake of reading material to reduce external influence. I am ingesting instead heaping loads of non-fiction with a savory accent on history, beginning with Pulitzer Prize winner Joseph J. Ellis’s terrific American Creation (2007), a masterly examination of the founding years of the United States.
After Creation I moved on to Storm Over the Land (1942), Carl Sandburg’s exploration of the American Civil War. Known primarily as a poet, the Illinois-born writer was an absolute fetishist for American ballads and folklore (he was an avid collector and editor of books on the topic) and there is scarcely a more folkloric figure in the history of the United States than Sandburg’s fellow Illinois native and 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln.