Whether your politics travel on the left, the right, or somewhere in between, Chris Matthews’ recent memoir is one that you will not want to miss ... Through each of these books, Matthews’ chapters are, for the most part, short, but his clear, concise, and tight writing gives the reader the idea that nothing has been left out. He presents a positive attitude toward all of his experiences, even those disappointments that could have stopped him cold ... It should be noted that while his story is based primarily on the many journalistic and political experiences, there is a poignancy to his writing when he talks about meeting Kathleen, his wife, and the deaths of his parents. The closeness of family is an underlying foundation to this story as he shares the importance of the people closest to him and how their support moved him forward ... It’s difficult to share the finite details that rise to the surface as Matthews takes the reader from his youth through his life experiences. The bottom line is this is a book that should be read and shared and enjoyed ... As one finishes reading This Country, one is left with the sense that the story is not over yet— and we should all stay tuned to this station for the next chapter of Chris Matthews’ experiences.
If Barack Obama is a writer stuck inside a politician, Chris Matthews may be a politician stuck inside a writer ... history is not a roll-call, and a near-perfect attendance record at the major events of the past 50 years does not make a memoir. And the book, while capably written, offers neither new historical insight nor true personal intimacy. Reading it can feel like shuffling through a bunch of postcards from the past, pictures of famous monuments accompanied by a jotted note saying 'I was there!' ... while Matthews proved an able historian in his three books about the Kennedys and one about political opponents Ronald Reagan and Thomas P. 'Tip' O’Neill Jr., his memoir fails to convey the complexity and nuance of being a real person living through a historical time. The book seems to be written for political junkies like himself; it feels at times like a string of names and dates, descriptions of long-forgotten bills and long-gone political operators, a yearbook for Washington insiders, meant to be read index-first. The problem is that Matthews was often straddling the line between politics and journalism, as he suggests himself when he contemplates a 2010 run for Senate: 'How could I cover politics while at the same time preparing to jump into it myself?' ... This is the great tension of Matthews’s life, one that has propelled his career and enlivened his show but hobbles this book. Although he was never successfully elected to office himself, it’s clear that Matthews is a political creature at heart. He has a politician’s recollection for obscure names and banal anecdotes, a relentless forward propulsion and limitless confidence, a firm grasp of the political upsides and downsides of any situation. He also has a politician’s lack of introspection, aversion to showing any weakness, and general lack of curiosity about anything unrelated to the machinations of power. The book reads like a 300-page stump speech in a one-man campaign to be elected Guy Who Knows the Most About Politics ... Despite Matthews’s repeated insistence that politics is all about 'personal connection,' at nearly every turn he pivots away from private observations or intimate details and toward information that was already publicly known. The decades he spent behind the scenes in the 1970s and ’80s yield few new insights about the political history of that time, often focusing on obscure legislative maneuverings too outdated to be relevant to a 21st century audience. The anecdotes are toothless and largely flattering to the subject, making the reader wonder what kind of juicy details he’s picked up after a lifetime in politics that he’s keeping to himself ... he seems so wrapped up in the minutiae of his own career that he often misses the more interesting narratives in his path ... It’s the love of the game that has animated Chris Matthews’s life and career, and This Country is more about the players’ vital stats and scores than the feeling in the stands. But that political game — hardball — has changed. The rules are different now, and so are the stakes. Matthews knows this but, in typical fashion, he steers clear of any real soul-searching over his sudden departure from television ... His book is best read as a snapshot of a certain kind of player in a certain kind of game. He saw his share of plays, he knows the strategy better than anyone, and when history happened, at least he can say he was there.
Matthews narrates his political coming of age in the clipped, rapid-fire style of his TV presence. And he presents many of his formative encounters with politics and journalism in concert with the newsreel-style convulsions that upended this country’s epic of national self-understanding ... Matthews’s flat-yet-confident pundit voice moves forcefully onto center stage, as the book becomes the sort of then-this-happened march through recent political history you’re apt to encounter on any cable news channel of your despairing choosing. There are, inevitably, some embarrassing disclosures along the way ... This is capital-h History as Chris Matthews lived it—but he evidently never quite grasped that the old saw about journalism being history’s first draft meant that one’s understanding of it should be revised and reworked in the fullness of time. No, the point of history, Matthews-style, as with any other exercise in punditry, is to be shown to be right, in real time—and then you can confidently clamor forward to the next segment ... Even the observations collected here that aren’t actually drawn from repurposed column content bear the telltale thumbprints of on-the-fly punditry ... Even Matthews’s appeals to history qua history are correspondingly punditized, and miniaturized for seeming televisual consumption ... It’s a classic Chris Matthews performance, rendered on the printed page—a blizzard of deeply clichéd, executive-sanctioned sentiment about everything and nothing ... To live through, and reflect on, history in any meaningful way is to wrestle with the tragic limits it imposes on the ambitions of the powerful, hubristic class of men and women who claim to know its foreordained course—what the historian John Lukacs called the interpretation of history as 'chastened thought.' But that’s not something that Chris Matthews or his legions of cable imitators are about to blurt out on set. And that, in turn, leaves his long-suffering audience to marvel at the very many types of leaders who are, in fact, getting away with anything and everything—and to exclaim, yet again, in bitter wonderment, 'What a country.'