Brown Study

Brown study

21 September 2019

9:00 AM

21 September 2019

9:00 AM

I have recently been reading two political books each of which was a complete waste of time and money. Then I got to thinking about the unfortunate political tragics who have not yet bought either of these works but who might be on the verge of doing so. Shouldn’t they be warned in some way about the foolish step they are about to take in buying one or both of these worthless books and finding they were disappointed in both? I concluded that I really should do something to warn them not to waste their time and money. They could always read the reviews, but that would be too late, because they would have bought and read the books by then. And it would not be much of a warning, because reviewers and authors just take turns in praising each other. Suddenly, I hit on a new and invaluable role for the book reviewer. Instead of the usual sycophantic review or, worse, the equivocal one that leaves you undecided about the book, I decided that I could actually save the reader time and money by nominating a book of the month that you definitely should not read. On my quick calculations, you can actually save hundreds of dollars a year if you simply follow our regular monthly recommendations and never buy any of the books on our list. And you will save hundreds more if you act on the recommendations in our bumper Christmas issue, when we will advise you not to buy at least a dozen specified books in December alone. And to join our club, you pay only 10 per cent of what you save!

So, knowing that many of our readers are political aficionados, let me start with two books of that genre that we strongly recommend you do not buy or even bother reading. The first is Niki Savva’s Plots and Prayers, the story of the overthrow of Malcolm Turnbull and the rise of Scott Morrison. This book tells you nothing about politics or government, except that the protagonists hate each other, have secret meetings which everyone leaks to anyone silly enough to listen, and gossip about each other like a lot of schoolgirls. I think we also knew from Ms Savva’s first book that she does not like Tony Abbott, but in case we have forgotten, it is given an even heftier thump this time around. He is presented as positively evil and gets his just deserts by being defeated — and by a woman!


And the padding in this work is unbearable; we go over the same ground, mostly meetings that blur into each other, until even the poor participants confess to Ms Savva that they are confused about who was at a meeting or if they were there themselves. But neither this, nor the fact that so many of them are anonymous, stops them being put forward as reliable witnesses. And, like the first in Ms Savva’s franchise, The Road to Ruin, on the overthrow of Tony Abbott and the origin of the porno politics genre she created, sex very quickly rears its ugly head; an entire chapter is devoted to and actually entitled, ‘Barnaby’s Doodle’, with the title repeated on every page. I think there is something distinctly Freudian about this book. And it is full of useless trivia, down to the meals the activists ate during their plotting and in one case setting out an entire menu. There is so much of it, you wonder if this is not the birth of another literary genre from Ms Savva, gastro politics. The book also has a major structural weakness; it was written when the Labor party was supposed to win the election and before the dumb voters blundered on stage, and it never really gets down to any analysis of how or why this happened, except that nobody liked Tony Abbott, everyone ate a lot and Barnaby’s doodle turned out to be of more significance erectorally than electorally.

The second book which, if anything, is worse, is Michael Wolff’s Siege, being volume 2 of his denunciation of the Donald Trump presidency that follows on from his Fire and Fury. This is, like Ms Savva’s work, a series of random conversations that do not seem connected in any way, develop into a theory or explanation of any sort or lead to any conclusions. In any case, Mr Wolff has already reached his conclusion on Trump which is that he is mad and a liar and doomed. With such a start, it is obvious that the book is not even remotely balanced or objective about power and how it is used in the Trump White House, what it means for us or why he is apparently so successful. I say the book is worse than Ms Savva’s because it is longer and there are more people leaking their heads off, swearing and swirling around each other than there are in Plots and Prayers, but they get to the same point- nowhere. It begins in February 2018, the second year of Trump’s presidency and meanders on until the delivery of the Mueller report into the alleged conspiracy with Russia to deny Hillary Clinton her just and proper election victory, which is a damp squib because Mueller finds there was no conspiracy. Mr Wolff, however, does not let a trifle like that stand in the away of a good story. So, off we go for 300 pages of gossip about Trump, Manafort, Kushner, casinos, real estate deals, prostitutes, staff resignations, the FBI, Stormy Daniels, the Wall, Supreme Court judges and back again to Mueller and the non-conspiracy. And lurking over the whole narrative is the menacing presence of Steve Bannon, who turns out, surprisingly, to be the nicest and wittiest person in the entire book. But the final assessment must be, as it is of Ms Savva’s book: pointless. Watch out for our coming recommendation of books not to buy or read.

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