Books By P. J. O’Rourke
My Website And Welcome To It
I confess it is with some reluctance that I’ve established this Web site. I don’t like computers. The last thing the world needed was television that talks back. Computer images are too close for the top part of my bifocals and too far away for the bottom part. Microsoft Word was designed by pre-teen math bee contestants. Spell-check can’t spell.
Half a year into the current presidential administration it still redlines “Barack Obama.” And I see by the wavy green thing that’s supposed to alert me to incorrect usage that no one in Redmond, Oregon, has ever heard of the subjunctive. I write on an IBM Selectric that makes no girly noises when I turn it on and off, where I can automatically “save” my copy by yanking it out of the roller, and on which no spam appears unless I leave a sandwich atop the keyboard. The Internet, or as Dave Barry calls it, “CB radio with typing,” is a marvelous research tool—if you want to know who played the lead in the 1954 giant ant sci-fi epic Them!, and, I don’t (James Whitmore). Otherwise it’s a source of Wikignorance, and, speaking of that, I’m a professional journalist and am able to make up facts without assistance, thank you.
As for the way the Internet has made personal communication easy—why would anyone want to do that? Think of the personal communications you’ve made with the greatest ease—things that just popped out of your mouth. Almost every one of them is something you’d like to take back. Now it’s out there in the ether forever instead of just stuck in your spouse’s mind for the next sixty years. And if I’d wanted to hear from grade school friends I would have stayed in grade school.
Fiddling with social communication devices is what people do in public nowadays instead of smoking and to about the same good effect. I have no use for e-mail, which degrades the banality of the postcard message by subtracting the view of the Matterhorn. Blogging is an abomination. To paraphrase Emily Dickinson: “How public, like a frog/To tell one’s name the livelong day/on a self-admiring blog.” And I hold Twitter to be the lowest form of human communication, something between the front tooth thumb flick with which the Neapolitan tells you off and a Bedouin fart of satisfaction after a repast of lamb eyeballs.
But what truly irks me about the digital age is that content is free. I used to be a writer. Now I’m a content-provider. I have three dogs to feed, whiskey and shotgun shells to buy, children to send to college, a wedding anniversary to shop for. Perhaps you can understand my irritation with content is free. Plus you’re not getting a sweetheart deal either. Something that’s free is worth it.
And don’t get me started on video games. I’ve observed my children while they were wasting time with video in its various forms, and I’ve observed them while they were wasting time with video games. Mere video has the advantage of being passively stupid. Video games are actively stupid. Video leaves the intelligence of children inert. Video games suck the intelligence right out of their heads. Although Wii, I suppose, does represent some progress—a way to get kids to bump into furniture without drugs.
In sum: The computer is the light shining out of Satan’s butthole. I hope you enjoy my Web site.
P.J.’s Own Bio
I was born in 1947 in Toledo, Ohio, into a family so normal as to be almost a statistical anomaly. My father sold cars, my mother was a housewife. There were 2.5 children. (My sisters are identical twins and no one noticed they had separate identities until they married different men.) I graduated from Thomas A. DeVilbiss high school, named after the man who invented the paint spray gun. He was a throat doctor trying to develop a power atomizer for his patients, poor them.
I went to Miami University, the one in Ohio, not the one where you can major in water skiing. I was awarded a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship because it was the 1960s, a decade without quality controls. The fellowship was used to attend The Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins University where I wrote experimental fiction and poetry—a complete waste of time for which I received an MA.
In the early 1970s I worked for various “undergound” newspapers and, for a while, edited one in Baltimore called Harry. It was an embarrassing name, but it was an embarrassing era.
In 1973 I went to work for the National Lampoon, becoming managing editor in 1976 and editor in chief in 1978.
In 1981 I worked on Rodney Dangerfield’s first movie, Easy Money. I swear that when my co-writers and I handed in the script it had an ending. Michael Kinsley, then editor of Harper’s, sent me on a trip to the Soviet Union in 1982. I decided to become a foreign correspondent. Foreigners are funny and do my work for me.
From 1985 to 2000 I was Rolling Stone‘s foreign affairs desk chief (and all of the indians). I reported from something like fifty countries and covered a dozen or more wars, rebellions, uprisings, and armed assings around.
There was also a lot of freelance work, for Car & Driver, Automobile, The American Spectator, Forbes FYI, Playboy, even House and Garden. (I had a crush on the articles editor, and she promised that someday she’d let me write an article on chainsaw gardening.)
In 2000 Mike Kelly, editor of The Atlantic, called and said, “I can pay you less.” Mike, who was one of the best, was killed in the assault on the Baghdad airport in 2003.
After Iraq I was too old to be scared stiff and too stiff to sleep on the ground, no matter how hilarious discomfort and cowardice are. Nowadays I appear—that is, make a noise—from time to time on the panel of NPR’s “Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me!” quiz show. I write mostly for The Weekly Standard and for World Affairs (not a magazine about Bill Clinton’s trips overseas). And Garden and Gun (which is the best title for a publication ever) has promised that it really will let me write “Chainsaw Gardening.”
I live with my wife and three children in rural New Hampshire because—because no one else wants to. The other day I was mentioning to my wife that Perth, Australia, is the place where people live that is farthest away from any other place that people live. “And the reason we don’t live there,” said my wife, “is the weather’s too nice.”
DON’T VOTE—It Just Encourages The Bastards — Atlantic Monthly Press, New York, 2010
Parliament of Whores, written twenty years ago, was a look at our political system’s machinery (and the wrenches—and wretches—in it). Don’t Vote is a look at our political system’s principles (or lack of them). I’m trying to figure out the principles—good, bad, and absent—that make our political machinery work the piss-poor way it does.
Driving Like Crazy — Atlantic Monthly Press, New York, 2009
Thirty Years of Vehicular Hell-Bending Celebrating America the Way It’s Supposed to Be — With an Oil Well in Every Backyard, a Cadillac Escalade in Every Carport, and the Chairman of the Federal Reserve Mowing Our Lawn
A collection of nineteen pieces of car journalism spanning thirty-some years. I included my 1978 instructional essay, “How to Drive Fast on Drugs While Getting Your Wing-Wang Squeezed and Not Spill Your Drink.” But I added a follow-up for those of us who have fallen victim to middle-age, “How to Drive Fast When the Drugs Are Mostly Lipitor, the Wing-Wang Needs More Squeezing Than It Used to Before It Gets the Idea, and Spilling Your Drink Is No Problem if You Keep the Sippy Cups from When Your Kids Were Toddlers and Leave a Baby Seat in the Back so that When You Get Pulled Over You Look Like a Perfectly Innocent Grandparent.”
On the Wealth of Nations — Atlantic Monthly Press, New York, 2008
Part of the “Books That Changed the World” series—commentaries by various contemporary writers on various Great Books. These were commissioned by Toby Mundy, head of Atlantic Books, London. The unspoken subtitle of the series is, “Books That, Let’s Admit, You’re Never Going to Finish.” And you don’t have to, I did it for you—although it took me a year and threw me into the deep end of the thought pool where I am not accustomed to swim without my water-wings.
Peace Kills — Atlantic Monthly Press, New York, 2004
America’s Fun New Imperialism
About how the end of the Cold War failed to take the foreign out of foreign policy. The book starts in Kosovo in 1999 and goes through 9/11 and the Iraq War. (Bargaining for beer in conquered Baghdad—and getting soundly cheated—showed the enduring strength and resilience of Middle Eastern culture.) There’s a postscript about a visit to Iwo Jima, a few months after the invasion of Iraq was completed, where the reporter is invited to consider whether we’ve got it so bad compared to WWII.
The CEO of the Sofa — Atlantic Monthly Press, New York, 2001
One year in the life of a man who said, “Mind if I put my feet up? I think I will take this lying down.”
A light-hearted ramble through the foibles and follies of the Clinton era with a publication date of September 10, 2001. I promptly forgot about the book, and so did everyone else. Re-reading it, I’m fond of the thing, but there may be reasons for forgetting it besides national tragedy. I was trying to take a collection of miscellaneous pieces and work them into a similitude of The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table by Oliver Wendell Holmes. In the first place I discovered that most people have Holmes confused with his more famous relative Sherlock. In the second place the conceit of Holmes’s book is that the autocrat lives in a boarding house and dominates the conversation during the morning meal. Conversation at a sit-down meal, let alone in the morning, is now a wholly alien concept. Even the phrase “table talk” is meaningless to moderns. What is the table talk at TV tables?
“Where’s the remote?”
Eat the Rich — Atlantic Monthly Press, New York, 1998
A Treatise on Economics
In an attempt to answer the question I read some economics (ouch). I also went to look at good capitalism (on Wall Street—but two bubbles ago), bad capitalism (Albania), good socialism (Sweden), bad socialism (Cuba), a place with plenty of resources but no money (Tanzania), and a place with plenty of money but no resources (Hong Kong). The fundamental conclusion of the book: The free market is ugly and stupid, like going to the mall; the unfree market is just as ugly and just as stupid except there’s nothing for sale at the mall and if you don’t go there they shoot you.
Age and Guile Beat Youth, Innocence, and a Bad Haircut — Atlantic Monthly Press, New York, 1995
25 Years of P. J. O’Rourke
This is a sort of memoir in anthology form, or as close to a memoir as I’m likely to get. Collected and briefly annotated are pieces written from 1970 to 1995 (when I got married and had kids causing, as every spouse and parent knows, nothing to ever happen in my life again). Fifteen years later I think I detect some off-key caterwauling of Walt Whitman’s tune. “I celebrate myself and sing myself.” I would be embarrassed if, in this day of Tweet, blog, and “Jersey Shore,” such a thing as embarrassment existed.
All the Trouble in the World — Atlantic Monthly Press, New York, 1994
The Lighter Side of Overpopulation, Famine, Ecological Disaster, Ethnic Hatred, Plague, and Poverty
Fashionable worries. I went to see some, visiting Somalia for the sake of its famine (the result of political-economy evils), the Amazon for the sake of its environmental degradation (the result of political-economy evils), the Czech Republic for its pollution (ditto), Haiti for its disease (ditto), and Bangladesh for its overpopulation (ditto). Bangladesh turned out to have the same population density as the Silicon Valley commuter town of Fremont, California. Fremont, besides being filled with single-family homes with spacious lawns, has a 22,000 acre wildlife refuge inside its city limits.
The British edition had a better subtitle, “The Lighter Side of Famine, Pestilence, Destruction, and Death.” But American readers were thought to be too ill-educated to understand the reference to the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, or, if they did, they’d get them mixed up with the Notre Dame backfield coached by Knute Rockne.
Give War a Chance — Atlantic Monthly Press, New York, 1992
Eyewitness Accounts of Mankind’s Struggles Against Tyranny, Injustice, and Alcohol-Free Beer
Partly my reporting from the Gulf War. (I accidentally got into Kuwait before the liberating allies arrived—long story.) And partly reporting on the travails of communism at the end of the Cold War. I arrived in Berlin three days after the wall opened. The party was still on. I also watched communism expire in Nicaragua, Ukraine, and ex-Soviet Georgia and watched it trying to keep itself alive in Vietnam. (In Vietnam they called their Russian allies “Americans without money.”)
Parliament of Whores — Atlantic Monthly Press, New York, 1991
A Lone Humorist Attempts to Explain the Entire U.S. Government
Holiday’s in Hell —Atlantic Monthly Press, New York, 1988
In which our intrepid reporter travels to the world’s worst places and asks, “What’s funny about this?”
Republican Party Reptile — Atlantic Monthly Press, New York, 1987
The Confessions, Adventures, Essays, And (Other) Outrages of P. J. O’Rourke
A truly miscellaneous collection containing all I’d written to date that my friend and editor (then as now) Morgan Entrekin thought anyone would ever want to read again. Includes everything from National Lampoon japes and American Spectator rants to coverage of the Marcos overthrow in the Philippines and the 1985 TWA hijacking and hostage crisis in Beirut. The book’s supposed selling point was the novelty of the author being a funny conservative. And it still is a novelty to be a funny conservative—on purpose.
The Bachelor Home Companion — Atlantic Monthly Press, New York, 1993 (hardcover)
A Practical Guide to Keeping House Like a Pig. With photographs by Alan Rose.
also Simon & Schuster Pocket Books, New York, 1987 (trade paperback)
Illustrated with very funny photographs created by Alan Rose and featuring a much younger (and slimmer, darn it) author. Photo reproductions aren’t great in either edition but are somewhat better in the original Simon & Schuster paperback.
Second edition has a new foreword from the author lamenting the good old days of the Reagan administration “when tax cuts were in bloom and Clinton was in Flowers.” (Readers under 40, ask a grizzled Whitewater aficionado to explain this joke to you.)
Modern Manners (Original Edition) — Dell Publishing, New York, 1983 (trade paperback)
Illustrated by Robert Neubecker
Modern Manners (Revised Edition) — Atlantic Monthly Press, New York, 1989 (hardcover)
An Etiquette Book for Rude People
Robert Neubecker’s illustrations weren’t used in the revised edition. I don’t remember the reasoning behind this, but it was a loss. The prose in the revised edition was also cleaned up a bit—partly to correct my solecisms and partly to reflect the decade’s growing prudery. (AIDS had rendered certain jokes not quite as funny as they’d seemed six years before.) The original edition is more risqué.
Eight Little Civics Lessons
From the Early Days of the George W. Bush Administration
The Cato Institute, Washington, 2002
Eat the Rich
Abridged Student Edition
The Cato Institute, Washington, 1998
The American Spectator’s Enemies List
A Vigilant Journalist’s Plea for a Renewed Red Scare
Compiled and Annotated by P. J. O’Rourke
The American Spectator, Arlington, Virginia, 1990
The American Spectator’s Enemies List
Revised and Enlarged Second Edition
Atlantic Monthly Press, New York, 1996
NATIONAL LAMPOON SUNDAY NEWSPAPER PARODY
Edited by P. J. O’Rourke and John Hughes
National Lampoon, New York, 1978
Rugged Land, New York, 2005
Astute readers will find, in “Dacron, Ohio,” the germ of Hughes’s “Sherman, Illinois,” where his 1980’s movies were set. The original edition was in the form of a real Sunday newspaper with all the sections and inserts wrapped in a cellophane pack. The reprint suffers from being put into a tabloid format and bound. The Newspaper Parody probably makes more sense to people who’ve read the 1964 High School Yearbook Parody.
NATIONAL LAMPOON 1964 HIGH SCHOOL YEARBOOK PARODY
Edited by P. J. O’Rourke and Doug Kenny
National Lampoon, New York, 1974
Rugged Land, New York, 2003
The Yearbook Parody used students at a Manhattan private school who were told, “You can either cut your hair or play an ugly girl.” Larry Kroger, the “owner” of the yearbook, shows up again as the fraternity pledge in Animal House.
The Rugged Land reprint contains some extra material such as the “C. Estes Kefauver Class of 1964 12th Year 10thReunion” published in National Lampoon in 1976 and a “Where Are They Now?” update. But the photo reproduction is poor. The quality is also poor in the reprints published by National Lampoon after the magazine was sold to the League for the Prevention of Humor in the 1980s.
THE DREADED FEAST
Writers on Enduring the Holidays
Edited by Michele Clarke and Taylor Plimpton
Abrams, New York, 2009
“Give It a Rest, Ye Merry Gentlemen”
INTERVIEWS WITH HUNTER S. THOMPSON
Ancient Gonzo Wisdom
Edited by Anita Thompson
Da Capo Press, Cambridge, MA, 2009
Interviews for Rolling Stone in November 1987 and November 1996
Oliphant Cartoons & Sculptures from the Bush Years
By Pat Oliphant
Andrews McMeel Publishing, Kansas City, 2007
Writers Reflect on Growing Up in Ohio
Edited by Lisa Watts
Ohio University Press, Athens, OH, 2007
“Why It’s Good to Come from Nowhere”
WHY I TURNED RIGHT
Leading Baby Boom Conservatives Chronicle Their Political Journeys
Edited by Mary Eberstadt
Threshold Editions, New York, 2007
“The Unthinking Man’s Guide to Conservatism”
WHY I AM A REAGAN CONSERVATIVE
Edited by Michael Deaver
William Morrow, New York, 2005
“The Shocking Convictions and Astonishing Grabbiness of the Left”
THE WEEKLY STANDARD
A Reader: 1995–2005
Edited by William Kristol
HarperCollins, New York, 2005
“Mrs. Clinton’s Very, Very Bad Book”
WAIT WAIT… DON’T TELL ME!
The Oddly Informative News Quiz
25 Years of Public Policy from the Cato Institute
Edited by David Boaz
Cato Institute, Washington, 2002
“The Right to Do as You Please and Take the Consequences”
Stone Cowboys, Narco-Lords, and Washington’s War on Drugs
Edited by Mike Gray
Nation Books, New York, 2002
“My Problem with the War on Drugs”
CHINA IN THE NEW MILLENNIUM
Market Reforms and Social Development
Edited by James A. Dorn
Cato Institute, Washington, 1998
“Getting Over Equality”
BACKWAD AND UPWARD
The New Conservative Writing
Edited by David Brooks
Vintage Books, New York, 1996
“The Liberty Manifesto”
ROAD TRIPS, HEAD TRIPS, AND OTHER CAR-CRAZED WRITINGS
Edited by Jean Lindamood
Atlantic Monthly Press, New York, 1996
Introduction and “Border Patrol”
Former Radicals Look Back at the Sixties
Edited by Peter Collier and David Horowitz
Madison Books, Lanham, MD, 1989
“The Awful Power of Make-Believe”
NATIONAL LAMPOON TENTH ANNIVERSARY ANTHOLOGY 1970–1980
National Lampoon, New York, 1979
Greater Talent Network, IncATTN: Don Epstein • 437 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10016
- Don’t Vote: It Just Encourages the Bastards
- Pirates in Neckties: Government vs. the Free Market, Which is Worse?
- If You Think Health Care Is Expensive Now, Wait Until You See What it Costs When It’s Free