The Daily Show with Jon Stewart Presents America the Book: A Citizen's Guide to Democracy Inaction

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Jon Stewart, host of the Emmy and Peabody Award-winning The Daily Show, and his coterie of patriots, deliver a hilarious look at American government.

American-style democracy is the world's most beloved form of government, which explains why so many other nations are eager for us to impose it on them. But what is American democracy? In America (The Book), Jon Stewart and The Daily Show writing staff offer their insights into our unique system of government, dissecting its ...

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Overview

Jon Stewart, host of the Emmy and Peabody Award-winning The Daily Show, and his coterie of patriots, deliver a hilarious look at American government.

American-style democracy is the world's most beloved form of government, which explains why so many other nations are eager for us to impose it on them. But what is American democracy? In America (The Book), Jon Stewart and The Daily Show writing staff offer their insights into our unique system of government, dissecting its institutions, explaining its history and processes, and exploring the reasons why concepts like one man, one vote, government by the people, and every vote counts have become such popular urban myths. Topics include: Ancient Rome: The First Republicans; The Founding Fathers: Young, Gifted, and White; The Media: Can it Be Stopped?; and more!

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
In gleeful response to the passions aroused by the 2004 elections, the wizards behind The Daily Show with Jon Stewart have compiled a guide for Americans who still retain a sense of humor. In delightfully digestible chapters, this absorbing discourse saunters through the entire history of misrule, from "Athens: Our Big Fat Greek Forerunners" to "Rome: The First Republicans" to "The Founding Fathers: Young, Gifted and White." This bipartisan guide answers vital questions such as "The Media: Can It Be Stopped?" and "What Type of Government Best Suits You?" Guaranteed to keep you in stitches all the way to the polling booth, and beyond.
Janet Maslin
… the devil's own comedic handiwork, a side-splitting guide to the abuses and absurdities built into our political processes and institutions … America can be opened at random, the way it will be in college dormitories when it becomes much loved and indispensable. But it can also be read straight through, thanks to sustained clever writing and a smart, durable premise.
The New York Times
Tom Carson
… the book's ultimate joke -- on our educational system, if not us in general -- is that it's not only more informative about how American government and culture work than the textbooks it burlesques, but gives us a keener sense of having a stake in both. So what if it's by a TV comic and his stable of wiseacre cronies? Dan Rather has been my favorite comedian for decades, and while I'd have to give him the edge over Stewart on laughs, he isn't nearly as perceptive. Not to sound like Samantha Bee, but could I please be the first to nominate America (The Book) for this year's history Pulitzer?
The New York Times Sunday Book Review
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780446532686
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
  • Publication date: 9/20/2004
  • Pages: 240

Read an Excerpt

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart Presents America (The Book)


By Jon Stewart

Warner Books

Copyright © 2004 Busboy Productions, Inc.
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-446-53268-1


Chapter One

Democracy Before America

It is often said that America "invented" democracy. This view is, of course, an understatement; America invented not only democracy, but freedom, justice, liberty, and "time-sharing." But representative democracy is unquestionably our proudest achievement, the creation most uniquely our own, even if the rest of the Western world would have come up with the idea themselves by the 1820s. So why, then, has participation in this most wondrous system withered?

As heirs to a legacy more than two centuries old, it is understandable why present-day Americans would take their own democracy for granted. A president freely chosen from a wide-open field of two men every four years; a Congress with a 99% incumbency rate; a Supreme Court comprised of nine politically appointed judges whose only oversight is the icy scythe of Death- all these reveal a system fully capable of maintaining itself. But our perfect democracy, which neither needs nor particularly wants voters, is a rarity. It is important to remember there still exist many other forms of government in the world today, and that dozens of foreign countries still long for a democracy such as ours to be imposed on them.

To regain our sense of perspective and wonder, we must take a broader historical view, looking beyond America's relatively recent success story to examine our predecessors and their adorable failures. In this chapter, we will briefly explore the evolution of an idea, following the H.M.S. Democracy on her dangerous voyage through the mists of time, past the Straits of Monarchy, surviving Hurricane Theocracy, then navigating around the Cape of Good Feudal System to arrive, battered but safe, at her destined port-of-call: Americatown.

Early Man: More Animal Than Political

The human race is by nature brutal, amoral, unreasonable and self-centered, but for the first few hundred thousand years of our existence as a species, we were way too obvious about it. Primitive culture centered on survival of the individual and, occasionally, survival of someone the individual might want to reproduce with (see 1981's harrowing documentary Caveman. Civic institutions were non-existent, as was debate, which would appear later after the invention of the frontal lobe. For prehistoric man the rule of law, such as it was, could best be summed up by the seminal case Marbury's Head v. Madison's Rock.

Early man lived this tenuous Darwinian nightmare for an age or two, until a peculiar thing happened: The unfittest decided they wouldn't mind surviving either. The feeble and weak realized that without a good plan they weren't going to make it out of the Stone Age to see the wonder that was clay. Alone, they were mammoth meat. Together, they would become a force with a chance to see the day when their children's children would be only 75% covered in hair. From these noble impulses, the groundwork for the first civilizations was laid.

Athens: Our Big Fat Greek Forerunners

Ancient Greece is widely credited with creating the world's first democracy. It would be a worthy endeavor to travel back in time to the feta-strewn shores of fifth-century B.C. Athens and ask Plato to define democracy, and not only to make money gambling on Olympics results that we, being from the future, would already know. Plato would tell us, in that affectionate but non-sexual way of his, that "democracy" is a Greek word combining the roots for "people" ("demos-") and "rule" ("-kratia"). In Greek democracy, political power was concentrated not in the hands of one person, or even a small group of people, but rather evenly and fairly distributed among all the people, meaning every John Q. Publikopolous could play a role in Athenian government. The main legislative body, the Assembly, was comprised of no less than the first 6,000 citizens to arrive at its meetings-and bear in mind, no saving seats. Jury duty was considered an honor to be vied for. Membership in most other civic institutions, including the Supreme Court, was chosen ... by lot! Imagine a system in which anyone could wind up serving on the Supreme Court. Anyone. Think about your own family. Friends. The guys you knew in college who would eat dog feces for ten dollars. Now picture one of them as your randomly chosen Chief Justice, and you'll appreciate just how fucked-up this system was.

Compared with American democracy, the Athenian version seems simplistic, naive, and gay. Transcripts of early Athenian policy debates reveal a populace moved more by eloquence and rationality than demagogues and fear-mongering. Thankfully, this type of humane governance wasn't allowed to take root. Athens's great experiment ended after less than two centuries, when, in 338 B.C., Philip of Macedon's forces invaded the city, inflicting on its inhabitants the eternal fate of the noble and enlightened: to be brutally crushed by the armed and dumb.

Rome: The First Republicans

The fall of Athens was followed by the emergence, overnight, of Rome. At first glance its people appear to have enjoyed a system of representative government similar to ours. True, behind its façade of allegedly "representative" officials lurked a de facto oligarchy ruled by entrenched plutocrats. But the similarities don't end there. In fact, the Founding Fathers borrowed many of their ideas from the Roman model, including its bicameral legislature, its emphasis on republicanism and civic virtue, and its Freudian fascination with big white columns.

However, there was very little real democracy in Rome. While the Senate theoretically represented the people, in reality its wealthy members covertly pursued pro-business legislation on behalf of such military-industrial giants as JavelinCorp, United Crucifix, and a cartel of resource-exploiting companies known as Big Aqueduct. They even monopolized the most notorious aspect of Roman life, instituting an orgy policy that can literally be described as "trickle-down."

Vomitoriums aside, Rome's biggest contribution to American government was probably its legal system, which codified key concepts like equal protection, "innocent until proven guilty," and the right to confront one's accusers. These very same issues would later form the basis of both the Bill of Rights and a mind-numbing quantity of Law and Order scripts. But by the time of Rome's huge millennium celebration marking the beginning of O A.D., the faint light of Roman democracy was all but extinguished. The Republic had given way to Empire. The only voting to speak of took place in the Colosseum and was generally limited to a handful of disembowelment-related issues. In time, the Empire itself fell, as history teaches us all empires inevitably must. Its most enduring legacy: a numerical system that allowed future generations to more easily keep track of Super Bowls.

The Magna Carta: Power to the Extremely Wealthy People

And then, darkness. For more than 1,000 years democracy disappeared from the European scene. The period instead saw the blossoming of an exciting array of alternate forms of government, such as monarchy, absolute monarchy, kingship, queenhood, and three different types of oppression (religious/ethnic/"for shits and giggles"). As for individual liberty, "innocent until proven guilty" was rapidly supplanted by a more aggressive law-and-order approach better characterized as "guilty until proven flammable."

Democracy had disappeared. The people needed a champion, and as is usually the case, the obscenely rich rode to the rescue. In 1215, England's wealthy barons refused to give King John the money he needed to wage war unless he signed the Magna Carta. The document codified that no man was above the law. Unfortunately for the peasant class, it did little to address how many were below it. Startlingly ahead of its time, this extraordinary document had a profound effect on people and continues to shape twenty-first-century views on topics as diverse as escheat, socage, burage, novel disseisin, and the bailiwicks of Gerard of Athee. But even more importantly, the Magna Carta set a powerful precedent for our own Founding Fathers: There was no more powerful means of safeguarding individual liberty than a vaguely worded manifesto inked in inscrutable cursive on dilapidated parchment.

The Magna Carta served as a wake-up call that Europe would be forced to answer-in about five hundred years. For Lady Democracy, having lain dormant for more than a millennium, had risen from its slumber only to stretch its arms, reach for the clock, and groggily set the snooze bar for "The Enlightenment."

The 17th and 18th Centuries: Enlightening Strikes

Though a promising development for democracy, the Magna Carta was mostly ignored as the world plunged into what would be known as the Dark Ages. It was an apt title for an era when amoebic dysentery was considered the good kind of dysentery. Oppression and high mortality rates seemed ready to swallow what remained of mankind, when through the darkness emerged the light that would be its salvation: Reason. It began slowly. "Hey, what if we stop storing the corpses in the drinking water and see if that makes any difference to our health?" From there, it gathered momentum. Soon, all conventional wisdom, from the shape of the Earth to whether the ruling class could have your hut burned and your organs removed because they thought you caused an eclipse, was up for grabs. This last question proved especially pertinent for the future of democracy and ushered in an era known as the Enlightenment.

The Enlightenment, with its emphasis on reason, would finally provide democracy with its philosophical underpinnings. The 17th and 18th centuries produced a wave of prominent thinkers espousing political systems based on what they called "the social contract." Government, they theorized, was a sort of legal agreement between the rulers and the ruled, the terms of which were binding on both parties. It was a groundbreaking theory. All they needed now was some country dumb enough to try it before the King found out and had them all drawn and quartered.

Democracy needed a fresh start-hearty and idealistic champions who would strike out for a new world, willing to risk everything for the principles of equality, liberty, justice ... and slaves. We'd need some slaves and guns. But we're getting ahead of ourselves. A new world awaited.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from The Daily Show with Jon Stewart Presents America (The Book) by Jon Stewart Copyright © 2004 by Busboy Productions, Inc.. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Foreword
Ch. 1 Democracy before America 1
Ch. 2 The founding of America 17
Ch. 3 The president : king of democracy 35
Ch. 4 Congress : quagmire of freedom 57
Ch. 5 The judicial branch : it rules 81
Ch. 6 Campaigns and elections : America changes the sheets 103
Ch. 7 The media : democracy's valiant vulgarians 133
Ch. 8 The future of democracy : four score and seven years from now 167
Ch. 9 The rest of the world : international house of horrors 183
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 50 )
Rating Distribution

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(36)

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(6)

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(1)

2 Star

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 50 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 14, 2004

    Like a text book, and just as funny

    I love Jon Stewart and think that the Daily Show is hilarious, but I found that it just does not translate well to this medium. The layout of the book is cluttered, arbitrary and confused, while the writing is beneath the standards of the TV show and quite frankly pretty lame. Perhaps the greatest strength of the show is the personalities of the performers and their delivery of the material, and that just does not come across at all in this book.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 8, 2006

    ...

    Now I KNOW American Govt. would be a more popular class if this was our actual textbook.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 5, 2006

    Wow

    This is one of the smartest and funniest books I have ever read. The fact that is a mock textbook, with stupid discussion questions and charts, makes this even more enjoyable. Everything in this is absolutely hilarious. Everyone has a favorite part, but to me, the idea of the Duchess of Kent speaking like a rapper to the colonies was one of the funniest things I have ever read. Once you get past the language, which becomes completely natural to the book after a while, you start to enjoy the sheer brilliance in the book. Have fun dressing the supreme court!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 20, 2006

    Poet Stephen Barichko Reviews 'America--The Book'

    As usual, Jon Stewart shines with his amazing ability to mock the government and society of, not only the U.S., but other countries as well ( he's broadening his horizons). This book balances information with humor: it contains accurate and true information, and teaches you how the government works, but does it in such a way that you can not get through one page without laughing hysterically.That's what's fantastic about it--it's not nonsensical humor based on stupidity--it's some of the most witty and fact-based humor you'll ever read: it makes a joke out of the truth. What's really irnoic is that most of his 'jokes' are funny because they're absolutely true. A fantastic book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 3, 2006

    Freakin' Hilarious

    This is my favorite comedy book. Ever. If you enjoy political satire, mock-textbooks, things that poke fun at the American way, or are just looking for a laugh, read this. It is, in my opinion, the funniest book that I have ever read. I love it.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 26, 2005

    Jon Stewart funniest book.

    Jon Stewart mocks both major monopolizing sides of the American collective thinking in this hilarious textbook of American history. It is perfect for any American high school student who would love to learn history through humor. I would've studied then. The truth, the good political humor, and portrayal of the shadow democracy we have are here.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 9, 2005

    Not Bad!

    Not as enjoyable as Stewart's show. Still, loved the satire enjoyed the visuals could live without the rampant vulgarity. I'd planned to leave the book out for my two teenage children to enjoy, but concluded they're too young for it. Ended up giving it to a soldier on leave from Iraq.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 13, 2005

    Wow.

    Incredibly hilarious, both for its historical and political commentary and for the striking resemblance to oh-so-many textbooks I've read through the years. While it's most certainly not squeaky clean humor, it's worthwhile and smart enough for me to have bought a copy for my mom. If you already watch the Daily Show, you probably have the book, but if you've never seen the show, get this book and watch that show! Jon Stewart and Co. are simply the funniest, most insightful and honest 'news'people out there. You'll find less rhetoric and spin on their show than anywhere else. Can't miss.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 2, 2005

    A scream!

    America' is set up like a modern high school history book, replete with colorful visuals, call-outs in the margins and 'expert' interviews, in this case from the Daily Show cast. While much of the book is dead-on satire, it does suffer (like the show) from a stronger-than-necessary dose of vulgarity, making it a PG-13 (if not an R-rated) experience. While references to auto-erotic asphyxiation and S&M gear might go over the heads of most teens, the copious use of profanity and the occasional nude photo won't. Jon Stewart and The Daily Show staff have collaborated to create a very humorous book discussing American Civics and the political processes that forged it. Starting with the framers of our Constitution, and then leading to the exploits and new vernacular of our President, the Daily Show staffers filled in the gaps with guffawing and knee slapping examples of U.S. Supreme Court faux pas and the status and responsibility of the media in our modern life, among many other 'targets.' Although much of the commentary concerns actual political incidents, be forewarned that the text is not always historically accurate and a lot of lampooning is at hand. Regardless, the book is a 'hoot' to read. I generally don¿t read this type of book, preferring the more ¿literary¿ type like Roth¿s ¿The Plot Against America¿ or McCrae¿s ¿Katzenjammer,¿ but, being a fan of Stewart¿s show, I had to give this one a shot.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 11, 2005

    This book is a good time

    The Daily Show crew strikes gold! I'm fan of Daily Show and everyone on it and this book is defintly like a complete uncut collection of daily show humor.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 15, 2005

    America The Book

    America: The Book spells out, chapter by chapter, the workings of the branches of government, the election process, and the role of journalism in creating and destroying all of these government functions. There are really no main characters or setting throughout the book, but despite that there are no flaws. If you're a fan of The Daily Show, you will enjoy reading John Stewart rip on journalism's loss of integrity, to Samantha Bee's randomly placed columns titled 'do you mind if I tell you how we do it in Canada?', Ed Helms' presentation of his qualifications to be Supreme Court justice and other random high power government positions. The book is not just a repeat of pieces from The Daily Show. While some people find politics and government to be a very boring or tasteless subject, this book puts it into a perspective that most people would find interesting and can relate to. The layout of the book was ingenious. It was formatted in such a way, that it was like a school textbook that you could actually see being taught in school (that is until you actually read and discover the actually content of the book.). To further enhance the idea that this was a school textbook, the end of each chapter is set with review questions. If you are not a history or government buff, this book is a great way to break into these topics. It also includes a review of some of the famous Supreme Court cases of our countries history such Roe vs. Wade and Brown vs. Board of Education. Personally I found the humor to be the most creative that I have seen in a book. This book is all around one of the best books I have ever read and I strongly recommend this to anyone, whether or not you are politically informed.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 12, 2005

    After reading this, founding fathers would be rolling in grave....laughing.

    A lot funnier, and more historically accurate than most of the textbooks I read in school.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 9, 2005

    Could easily be a college textbook

    well, learned more from this than from all my years of high school. All the while, I was laughing outloud at the jokes and anachronisms. Highly recommended.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 29, 2004

    Better than sitting through AP History - and funnier too!

    I picked up this book after hearing about it on the Daily Show and was truly impressed. The writers on the show have used their brand of satire, dry wit and (gasp) vulgarity to produce a fine version of my high school history textbook. I found myself laughing at jokes I had made in my own class notes and found them just as funny 8 years later. How did they get a hold of my notebooks? A must read for any fan of the Daily Show, or anyone tiring of the political punditry of America. Well done!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 4, 2005

    Satire done right!

    It's not an easy task to transfer the eccentric humor of The Daily Show to printed form, but America: The Book does it very well. Want to know what it does even better? Satire. I can easily envision a political theory class 50 years from now discussing this book as a terrific example of finely-tuned political acumen cloaked in the comforting guise of humor. Nothing is sacred, no one is safe, and between the lines of analyses there is a lot of truth. The reader is bound to read it laughing, but as the glow of that laughter subsides the smile falters as we dwell on the truths that this biting satire expose. Sort of like the way Arthur MIller hid his anti-McCarthy message in his play The Crucible. I think its pretty ironic that out of all the political books that have come out pandering to their own constituents, there's finally a political book sharp enough to tell it straight... and laughing!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 16, 2004

    fantastic

    Jon Stewart and the Daily Show writers have produced one hilarious history book on the breakdown of American democracy. With subject matter like that, you might wonder how it could be funny, but it's funny precisely because the subject matter is so important, so relevant, that it is usually treated too somberly. Not with this crew. There's slap-stick treatment at times, I admit, which is what you get on the Daily Show, but there's also sublime wit, real intelligence here. I recommend this as a holiday gift for anyone in college for sure, along with ...

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 22, 2004

    Clever and Humorous

    I can not stop laughing when I read this book! Having just graduated from high school, the textbook format (and the questions at the end of each chapter!) make it doubly hilarious. This is a must have.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 12, 2004

    The Truth - The Facts

    This book is whitty, funny, and just great. The best work involving John Stewert since his showing on CrossFire. Even without Facts, It's as close to the TRUTH about America's government as we are ever going to get. Trust me on that one.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 6, 2004

    a different take

    It is nice to read a political opinion that doesn't fit into the expected dichotomy. If you really listen to what Jon is always saying one should forget the left vs the right and see it is really the people vs their government. And on top of all the poignant critism of the government the book is also funny in the sense that it will make most people laugh. If you are a big fan of the US government you will probably not like the kind of jokes that are made at the expense of them there revenuers. There are also bad words and nudity of old people which may offend some. I would say that this book is for both sides of the political spectrum, but those on the GOP side may want to check with whoever thinks for them (e.g. Limbaugh, O'Reilly, Coulter, etc) to see if they are going to find this book funny or not, in which case they really don't need to read it for themselves.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 23, 2004

    History's funnier than I thought

    First off, I realize that this book is liberal and is written by a liberal man poking fun of the government in a subjective view. But c'mon, who cares? It's funny and witty, and if you're not so narrow-minded, you'd laugh like I did. And for all the people out there looking for an educational book about American government (or just democracy in general): this is not a college textbook explaining how democracy started! It's a joke-book! It's not to be taken seriously, but for you to ponder about the state America is in (particularly with *president* Bush in charge). So for all you conservatives out there who are offended by a mere book, I simply say: Get a sense of humor.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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