Observant, quicksilver explorations of the Big Apple’s political landscape.
Thank heavens that Kolbert broke free from the constraints of the New York Times, where she toiled for 14 years, and took up with the New Yorker, which allows for a more narrative approach to political analysis and appreciates the illuminating power of good prose. In this collection of relatively short pieces ranging from a half-dozen to a few dozen pages, Kolbert demonstrates that she knows from Adam how the New York political process works. For starters, she has read and understands the US Constitution, which is a real plus—and a rare one—for a political reporter. She also knows what the Ways and Means Committee does as compared to Budget or Appropriations, and how these committees bear upon the city’s future. Kolbert draws shrewd, meaty, colorful portraits of New York politicos, but she can also tuck them into a nutshell: charisma-free New York City Mayor Bloomberg, shamelessly parochial Congressman Charles Rangel, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (who “generally gives the impression of having just returned from a funeral”), or public-speaking-challenged New York Governor George Pataki (“After delivering the hoariest of platitudes, he will pause for emphasis and look up for approval, seemingly genuinely pleased with himself”). She is equally good on corruption, from no-show employees to Boss Tweed’s rule (“the brazenness of the self-dealing is almost unimaginable today, Enron notwithstanding”); on the sheer contrariness of the ACLU (“it takes a certain asceticism, not to mention an abstracted sense of self, to work for the American Civil Liberties Union and get a kick out of it”), and even on curios far from the political sphere, such as Regis Philbin, who has “made a career of anatomizing human frailty without ever drawing blood.”
Choice political journalism.