Having recently read one award-winning author by the name of Berry, I decided to pick up a book by a very different, also award-winning Barry, namely Dave.  As many of you probably know, Dave Barry is one funny man.  A regular columnist for the Miami Herald for a couple of decades, Barry has also written numerous books in the categories of both non-fiction and fiction (including children’s literature).

Today I read his Dave Barry Hits Below the Beltway: A Vicious and Unprovoked Attack on Our Most Cherished Political Institutions, and I laughed almost without ceasing for the four hours it took me to breeze through it.  The book is a hilarious send-up of the absurdity of American political institutions, with absolutely no claims to providing actual, reliable information.  On the contrary, as Barry notes in the introduction, “So if you were concerned about encountering a lot of actual information in this book, relax!  There’s almost none.  To compensate for the lack of facts, I have included a great many snide remarks.”

Barry begins with a brief and very tongue-in-cheek account of the evolution of government from prehistoric times to the arrival of the pilgrims in the New World.  The account itself is a riot, but it is made even funnier by the accompanying illustrations, many of them involving giant prehistoric zucchinis (a recurring theme throughout the book).  The rest of the book focuses specifically on the U.S. government: its ever-expanding size, the highlights of a trip to Washington, D.C., the process of presidential elections, and the typical shape of a modern political campaign.  The book closes with two chapters ostensibly on the 2000 presidential election, though the first chapter has more to do with the madhouse that is South Florida and the second with the indecipherable nature of legalese and the general incompetence of the media, esp. television.

Despite its obviously humorous character, the book offers some perceptive criticisms.  Take for instance, Barry’s explanation of how people vote for presidential candidates:

“I believe that how a candidate looks and sounds is way more important to the voters than his position on anything, which is why the public periodically decides that it likes some politician who totally disagrees with some other politician that the public also likes.  The public to this day is crazy mad for John F. Kennedy, not because of his policies – nobody has a clue what his policies were – but because… he had class!  He was handsome!  His wife was beautiful!  He was President Beatle!”

Surely nothing like this has gone on in recent elections </sarcasm>.  Barry also has some hilarious (and yet borderline practical) suggestions for improving presidential campaigns, such as regularly injecting candidates with truth serum on the campaign trail, and requiring them to wear donor logos like NASCAR drivers.  There’s no doubt that these changes would make the campaigns more transparent, as well as more interesting.

One of the funniest sections of the book for me was his description of South Florida.  He devotes nearly an entire chapter to this description in order to make a case for kicking South Florida out of the Union.  His account is hysterical and his case strangely compelling, particularly for those who have spent any extended amount of time in the greater Miami area.

If you are even half as cynical about politics as I am, you will enjoy this book.  Though it was published ten years ago, it (sadly) still rings true today.  My only advice is not to read it in a library – you will be laughing too loud and people might look at you funny.  Other than that, enjoy, and keep an eye out for those giant prehistoric zucchinis – they sneak up on you.

Nine down, (at least) forty-three to go.