An actor’s comedic exploration into America’s most gumption-exemplifying citizens.
Offerman (Paddle Your Own Canoe, 2013), best known as the hilarious Ron Swanson in Parks & Recreation, delivers 21 profiles of the men and women he admires most. “I am always hugely inspired (and personally relieved) to learn of the hard work that was required of any of my heroes before they could arrive at the level of mastery for which they ultimately garnered renown,” writes the author, an ethic reflected throughout his examples. From well-known historical figures (George Washington and James Madison) to more obscure men (boat builder Nat Benjamin, toolmaker Thomas Lie-Nielsen), Offerman smartly infuses history with humor, the result of which is an entertaining, educational reading experience. Though his tone may rile historians (“Young Theodore [Roosevelt] was, for lack of a better term, a wuss”), it’s a trespass easily forgivable for the comedic reward. Surprisingly, however, the author is at his best when he momentarily deviates from humor to reflect on society’s more serious problems. From partisanship to homophobia to the separation of church and state, Offerman utilizes his heroes as entry points to explore a range of subjects. The success of this tonal shift is exemplified in the chapter on writer and environmental activist Wendell Berry, a chapter that Offerman notes contains “less hyperbole than I would sophomorically like to apply to it.” Yet the risk pays off, proving to readers that the author is after much more than a chuckle, but concerted conversation as well. Though a bit bloated—the literary equivalent of Ron Swanson after a robust meal at Charles Mulligan's Steakhouse—Offerman’s book is nonetheless satisfying. His ability to vacillate between gruff history teacher and concerned citizen gives readers a reason to demonstrate their own gumption and follow him to the end.
A smart book of straight talk where laughter and logic meet.