This Town (Review)

Labels: A Lighter Touch

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This Town: Two Parties and a Funeral—Plus, Plenty of Valet Parking! in America's Gilded Capital
Mark Liebovich, 2013
400 pp.

Book Review by Molly Lundquist
September, 2013
Mark Liebovich's take on the nation's capital generates so many "suspicions confirmed" head-nods, you'll be popping Advil to ease the neck pain. According to This Town, Washington really is that bad—as bad we thought, even worse.

The opening pages take us to Tim Russert's funeral, a laugh-out-loud look at the preening, posturing D.C. in-crowd. That first chapter alone is worth the price of admission.

The Russet send-off turns out to be the social event of the season—and one suspects many attendees prayed more fervently for an invite than for the soul of the deceased. That's not to say that God's presence isn't felt at the funeral. "His presence is indeed potent although everyone keeps looking around for someone more important to talk to."

Humor aside (and there is plenty of it), Liebovich is concerned with the nexus of politics, corporate lobbying, and media, how those three forces alter—even warp—policy-making. He also paints a vivid picture of the cozy, incestuous relationships, everyone entangled with everyone else, that make politics a familly affair, sometimes literally.

They all—White House staffers, elected officials, reporters, commentators, corporate elite, lobbyists, p.r. promoters—attend the same parties and eat at the same restaurants. Everyone's a BFF with everyone else.

And let's not forget the revolving door: a huge number of D.C. operatives have occupied posts inside...and outside...and back inside...government. It's how you monetize your identity—how you win book deals, TV appearances, big-pay speaking engagements, and jobs at high-paying lobbying and consulting firms.

Turning yourself into a "brand" (yes, they really talk this way) can earn you six, seven figures. Washington has become a monied, celebrity-obsessed culture, out of touch with the rest of America. Nodding your head yet?

Liebovich's book is a detailed, disturbing exposé. Yet its ironic, gossipy tone makes an engaging read—even if you have to swallow your anger while laughing. And laugh you will.

So what can be done? That's the number one question for book clubs to ponder. For a really meaty discussion, select this book as a monthly read.

See our Reading Guide for This Town.

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