Today, Novel Notions is hosting a guest post by Adam Weller aka Swiff from Fantasy Book Review. Adam will be reviewing an upcoming non-fiction political humour book by Joel Stein.
In Defense of Elitism: Why I’m Better Than You and You Are Better Than Someone Who Didn’t Buy This Book by Joel Stein
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Non-fiction, Politics
Pages: 336 pages (Hardcover)
Published: 22nd October 2019 by Grand Central Publishing
Twenty-nineteen America: some of the country wonders what the hell happened, and how the hell we got to this point. Others wonder what took so damn long. ‘The real struggle for America is not between Democrats and Republicans, but between the mainstream American… populists and the ruling political elites,’ argues humorist and journalist Joel Stein in his new book, In Defense of Elitism: Why I’m Better Than You and You’re Better Than Someone Who Didn’t Buy This Book. It is a smart, incisive, and very funny collection of Stein’s adventures and revelations as he attempts to bridge the gap between the country’s divided parties while shedding light on the values that fuels each side.
Stein defines elites as people who think, and populists as people who believe. He labels himself an elitist based on his Ivy-league education, his well-known and oft-influential community members, and his privileged lifestyle. But he does a fine job of connecting with his audience by using a combination of self-deprecating humor and a Stephen Colbert-like outsized persona that both mocks and teaches about this social divide.
The first section of the book details Stein’s week-long trip to Miami, Texas where 95% of the county voted for Trump. His ‘goal’ was to convert the residents away from their non-educated, uninformed, and potentially racist line of thinking towards a more elitist mindset. (I do not think Stein truly believes this statement, but rather it is part of the puffed-up elitist character he personifies for the sake of argument.) Although there are some regressive values about the deep south that are witnessed first-hand, he discovers that the locals are more trusting, considerate, and connect with each other on a more personal level than Stein’s elitist suburban neighbors back in Hollywood Hills, California.
While the many jokes and witticisms on each page made the reading experience fun, it was more valuable to experience America through the lens of different communities that subvert the various stereotypes to which they’ve been portrayed. It is apparent that many deep-seated problems exist within the populist and elitist mindsets, and Stein tackles some of these issues by exposing himself to some of the more extreme situations found on each side. He visits Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams who argues that the power of his own beliefs is more valuable than the knowledge gained by actual experts in their professional field. He shares several conversations he’s had with Tucker Carlson, a conservative elitist who has a history of hypocritical and controversial opinions, but also offers views on why the populist movement has nearly deified Trump, regardless of Trump’s countless transgressions. We spend time in elitist conferences surrounded by headstrong company executives who believe they have the power to change the world. We also sit down for lunch with amiable southern Christians who try to convince Stein to leave Judaism and find Jesus.
By the end of the book, the focus of the writing is more analytical than anecdotal, presenting how populism and elitism have evolved over the centuries, and what their impact is today. But the clear, straightforward prose and rampant humor ensures that the book never veers too far from the beaten path. It is a wise move to prevent the non-elitists among us from having our uneducated minds overloaded with too many fancy words. Overall, Stein’s first-hand experiences combined with his sly humor and journalistic eye for detail elevates this book into an exceptional read. Whether or not you agree with Stein’s methodology or viewpoints, there is value in its well-researched information that can prepare you for the next family dinner debate. And isn’t that why we read books like this in the first place?
ARC via publisher. This book will be available for purchase on October 22nd.
Pre-orders also available on Amazon and Book Depository (free shipping worldwide).