Friday, 12 September 2008

"Only In America", by Matt Frei (4th Estate)

A look at life in the United States from one of the BBC's best foreign correspondents.

The beginning of this book was a little strange. I wasn't sure what it was supposed to be - the first handful of chapters seemed a little flippant and in a strange tone, like Frei was still trying to decide what he wanted the book to accomplish. It wasn't clear if he wanted it to be in the same category as Al Franken's The Truth With Jokes, or more cerebral and intellectual political fare.

Thankfully, as the book progresses, Frei seems to find his voice, and decides on his own middle ground, offering a mixture of wit and insight that paints an engrossing picture of America over the past ten years. Only In America is an intelligent critique and appraisal of life in the capital of the USA. With chapters covering his daughters' various schools and the differences between the American and British school systems; the place of think-tanks in American politics (a particularly illuminating chapter); immigration; the Christmas party at the White House (and the author's conveyor-belt meeting with the President) ; his frustrations with the White House press conference experience; and commentary on the Democratic Party's primary battles, to name but a few.

For some interesting inside-the-beltway insight, written in the tight, restrained prose of a talented journalist. With a light touch and a gentle humour, Frei has clearly developed a fondness for his adopted country, and as a result Only In America is an enjoyable read which will entertain anyone interested in Washington and the United States during the Bush years and in the wake of 9/11.

A recommended read.

Also try: Matt Taibbi's The Great Derangement, Nicholas Guyatt's Have A Nice Doomsday, Thomas Frank The Wrecking Crew, Justin Webb's Have A Nice Day (reviews of all of these are upcoming)

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