... essential, absorbing, infuriating, full-of-facts-you-didn’t-know, saxophonely written ... Now, this is one of those situations where the book is better than the review, so you should read it, but let me give you a sense of the many dimensions of the hijacking Andersen details. He makes a definitive, exhaustive and only very occasionally exhausting case that life changed profoundly in America starting in the 1970s and well into the 1980s, in ways that trap us still ... Mayer and others — Robert Reich, George Packer, Jacob S. Hacker — have told versions of this story before. And at first, while reading Evil Geniuses, that annoyed me. Until I understood what this book really is: Andersen’s retrospective on the bigger themes and trend lines and power grabs that he, and so many others, missed, even as he was writing magazine stories about the people and institutions in question. The book is an intellectual double take, a rereporting of the great neoliberal conquest, by a writer who kicks himself for missing it at the time ... Andersen’s sense of culpability and his permeability to new facts give his book its particular power. It is a radicalized moderate’s moderate case for radical change. Andersen is unambiguous about where America needs to go; he is honest about what it took to get him to his current views; and he writes not as a haranguer who presumes you’re with him but as a journalist who presumes you’re not, that you might even think as he once did. So, carefully, meticulously, overwhelmingly, he argues through facts ... And with his own complicity in mind, one place Andersen does break some new ground is in the portrayal of the shameful liberal complicity that was essential to the long plutocratic hijacking ... As he makes this wide-ranging case, Andersen never loses the texture of actual human beings. He flies his plane over vast territory, but he flies at low altitude so you’re always able to see real people sowing this future, going down these roads. He is a graceful, authoritative guide, and he has a Writer-with-a-capital-W’s ability to defamiliarize the known ... not a perfect book. At certain moments, more than a few times, there is a broad-brush characterization of the American spirit or temperament or enjoyment of liberty that clearly did not apply to Black Americans, a caveat Andersen omits...It is also a long book that occasionally loops back on itself. And, to my taste at least, it didn’t need the brief history of Covid at the end. I like my books like I like my exes: at a remove from my current situation.
... not a slog through terrible news. The book is, perhaps counterintuitively, terrifically entertaining and engaging. Andersen is a lively and funny writer who has honed his voice through a long career as a journalist, novelist, humorist and radio host/podcaster for Studio 360. The elements he is able to pull together and weave into a narrative that so convincingly pinpoints how we arrived at this moment are consistently novel and interesting ... Neither is Andersen’s book without hope.
Andersen is a confident synthesizer and writes with the zeal of the recently converted ... Should it take a random chat with an 'all-American' (meaning white) guy’s guy in a bomber jacket to awaken your conscience? He indicates this 'slow-road-to-Damascus moment' was a recent occurrence. And yet his own thesis is that for 40 years the country has been going to seed. What gives? ... I often found myself wondering: Are we talking about an epochal shift or a random shudder in the zeitgeist? A journalist at heart, Andersen has been trained to believe in the decade as the 'the standard unit of historical time,' as the social critic Christopher Lasch once put it. The shift we are undergoing now lies so much deeper than that ... Andersen is a gifted simplifier, and he is undeniably correct ... But the pitchfork and guillotine suit him poorly. As he rolled through his roster of usual suspects — Justice Powell, Arthur Laffer, trickle down, think tanks — it began to sing-song in my head like the old Billy Joel song. 'We didn’t start the fire,' Andersen is saying, by way of offloading a collective guilt onto a handful of devious super villains. In Evil Geniuses, Andersen has served up a big helping of culpa, hold the mea. Who can blame him? He is trying to hustle one last zeitgeist. And what is the zeitgeist saying in return? OK, boomer.
Much of Andersen’s material will be familiar to newshounds, but he arranges it into a cohesive argument backed by hard data and stinging prose. Readers will get a clearer picture of how the U.S. got to where it is today.