Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Books in Brief: Nonfiction

Twenty-five Years of P.J. O'Rourke
By P.J. O'Rourke
Atlantic Monthly

P.J. O'Rourke owes his place in the world of letters to his ability to make fun of politics. One is tempted to honor his bete noire, Karl Marx, and say he mocks "the immiserated," or buy into his ugly persona and call his targets "wogs," but the secret of his success is his avoidance of both indiscretions. Mr. O'Rourke's basic rhetorical ploy is never to deny the existence of suffering or--more remarkably in such a loud and proud conservative--economic exploitation. What gets him over is his self-interested cynicism about the impossibility of mitigating such nuisances. While little of this hodgepodge of left-wing juvenilia, right-wing propaganda and men's-magazine humor is exactly vintage, it isn't quite swill, either. From the fictionalized accounts of his career as a hard-drinking hippie to the Benchley-in-the-age-of macho lampoon of fly fishing, Mr. O'Rourke shows an incorrigible comic gift and an eye for detail that keeps the wild stuff grounded. And only a stick-in-the-mud could deny a pearl like: "The thing I like about Republicans is that they're no damn good at all. I know, I'm one of them. A Republican just wants to get rich, buy oceanfront property, dump the old wife and get a new blond one who'll listen attentively while the Republican talks about unfunded mandates over the arugula salad." Has Rush Limbaugh ever said it so well?

New York Times Book Review, Sept. 10, 1995