Great title, clever concept, average execution.
If you know anything about James, you wouldn't expect him to concoct a book with such a profane, in-your-face title. He has a doctorate from Harvard and teaches philosophy at the University of California, Irvine, and his first book had the desert-dry title of Fairness in Practice: A Social Contract for a Global Economy. And yet here he is, delivering a treatise about assholes throughout time, everybody from Machiavelli to Dick Cheney. Granted, the book is not just a quick-hit reference on everything asshole-related, but rather a more philosophical, existential approach to the subject. James tells us about the different types of assholes, a “taxonomy of the different species of asshole,” if you will, and he offers suggestions of professions that attract assholes (two good examples: conservative cable-news pundit and investment banker). James' writing style leans toward the academic (unsurprising, considering his background) and doesn't always feel like a logical match with his thesis. Readers picking up the book and anticipating a lot of snarky finger-pointing will be alternately pleased and frustrated. But James’ research is both thorough and imaginative; his impressive source list ranges from obscure philosophy books to popular websites to Rudyard Kipling to Kanye West, hip-hop’s greatest asshole. The author’s enthusiasm for the subject makes it possible to get through the book quickly, but it may lack staying power.
While there are moments of great insight and outright hilarity, the book feels more like a sharp magazine article or clever website than a full-length book.