Books — America (The Book)

The most important history book ever

A Civics lesson from professor Jon Stewart

By Amy Diaz

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart presents America (The Book):  A Citizen’s Guide to Democracy Inaction, Warner Books, 2004, 244 pages.

Sure, you can read your Noam Chomsky, your David Halberstam.

But really what history book will ever give you a better analysis than this: “The President of the United States is the most powerful, most recognizable and best person on earth. … The president is commander-in-chief of the armed forces, a power vested in him whether he is a veteran of the military (Washington, Grant, Eisenhower, Kennedy Bush Sr.) or a veteran of running away from the military (Clinton, Bush Jr.)”

The fake journalists who won the real Television Critics Association award for outstanding news and public affairs series do to American history what they do to its present. The book follows the county from the Founding Fathers (among the achievements of Benjamin Franklin? “Loved a good fart joke”) to the current election (Teresa Heinz Kerry got her education at “The Arianna Huffington Academy of Unplaceable accents”).

And then there’s the media. The book, like Stewart himself, saves most of its scorn for those in the real press. “Now, more secure in their relationship, government and the media are entering a golden age of harmony, aiding each other whenever possible. … The benefits of this are twofold: The public remains informed of the good things the government is up to and the media is freed up to use its entire arsenal for the next photogenic child’s disappearance.”

Laid out the like the civics text book it pretends to be, America actually contains a surprising amount of spot-on satire. Why surprising? Because the book, like the show, never forgets that its first purpose is to entertain (the reason, perhaps, that the book begins with one of those familiar “This Book Is the Property Of” stamps and includes the instruction that students write their name in the book and that “we are fully aware that Dick Hertz, I. P. Freely and Heywood Jablome are not real people, so please exclude them.”

- Amy Diaz

 
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