A compelling catalog of Tricksters and a convincing analysis of their power.



An activist scholar explores the value of the Trickster archetype to contemporary society.

The Warrior archetype, writes author Siegel, has a firm grip on 21st-century American politics and culture, as reflected in a collective “infatuation with toxic masculinity.” From the popularity of the NFL to the “faux heroism” of QAnon conspiracy theorists, many Americans live “for the fight,” eschewing democratic virtues, believing “there is no loyal opposition, only enemies.” What America needs, this book argues, is more “Trickster energy” that laughs at the “carnival of errors known as society.” Not only do Trickster archetypes have no time for vengeance or violence in their pursuit of fun, but they often expose the dirty underbelly of society and the true motives of the powerful. Films made by the Marx Brothers, for instance, use slapstick humor as a vehicle for biting social critiques of elites and self-styled authorities. Folk stories crafted by enslaved Africans in the Americas used the West African Trickster god called Eshù Elégba to flip the narrative script about power dynamics between enslavers and the oppressed; they also highlighted the ways female Tricksters utilized clever chicanery to stave off “oppressive husbands, kings, and lovers.” Drawing on a diverse range of literature and films, this book begins with a thoughtful examination of shared attributes of Tricksters across genres, time periods, and cultures, from the Native American coyote and Zulu weasel to “The Fool” in King Lear and Bugs Bunny in Looney Tunes. Most, for example, are loners who have an ambivalence toward black-and-white morality (“they just want to have fun”). And while they revel in scatological humor, they’re powerful figures who use deception to undermine authorities. Connecting literary tropes to contemporary life, Siegel makes an effective case for the practical value of Tricksters. Sacha Baron Cohen’s menagerie of characters (who include Ali G., Borat, and Brüno) not only have provided global audiences with laughs, but also highlight latent biases in American culture. Borat, for example, convinced a bar-full of Arizonans to sing “Throw the Jew down the well,” and Brüno nearly started a homophobic riot in Arkansas by kissing a man in a cage fight.

An activist scholar immersed in the Bay Area’s bohemian counterculture, Siegel shows a playful writing style, replete with puns and inside jokes, that mimics the Trickster archetype in using humor against the dark, powerful forces that drive contemporary politics and society. With a doctorate from UC Berkeley, Siegel is a skilled researcher who supports his argument with 250-plus endnotes that reflect his interdisciplinary approach to Tricksters, which combines history, sociology, anthropology, and literary criticism. Though the book’s firm command of the scholarly literature surrounding Tricksters will appeal to academics, its approachable, often jovial, writing style will also appeal to a wide audience. This emphasis on accessibility is reflected in the book’s ample references to popular TV shows and movies as well as its inclusion of dozens of photographs, posters, film stills, and other visual aids. And while the book’s politics are decisively leftist, which may alienate conservatives who by definition seek to preserve traditional institutions of power and authority, this is inevitable in a work that celebrates Tricksters who are notoriously “antistructure.”

A compelling catalog of Tricksters and a convincing analysis of their power.

Pub Date: May 31, 2022

ISBN: 978-1631957307

Page Count: 306

Publisher: Morgan James Publishing

Review Posted Online: Nov. 10, 2022

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Disingenuous when not willfully oblivious.


The former vice president reflects warmly on the president whose followers were encouraged to hang him.

Pence’s calm during the Trump years has been a source of bemusement, especially during the administration’s calamitous demise. In this bulky, oddly uncurious political memoir, Pence suggests the source of his composure is simple: frequent prayer and bottomless patience for politicking. After a relatively speedy recap of his personal and political history in Indiana—born-again Christian, conservative radio host, congressman, governor—he remembers greeting the prospect of serving under Trump with enthusiasm. He “was giving voice to the desperation and frustration caused by decades of government mismanagement,” he writes. Recounting how the Trump-Pence ticket won the White House in 2016, he recalls Trump as a fundamentally hardworking president, albeit one who often shot from the hip. Yet Pence finds Trump’s impulsivity an asset, setting contentious foreign leaders and Democrats off-balance. Soon they settled into good cop–bad cop roles; he was “the gentler voice,” while “it was Trump’s job to bring the thunder.” Throughout, Pence rationalizes and forgives all sorts of thundering. Sniping at John McCain? McCain never really took the time to understand him! Revolving-door staffers? He’s running government like a business! That phone call with Ukraine’s president? Overblown! Downplaying the threat Covid-19 presented in early 2020? Evidence, somehow, of “the leadership that President Trump showed in the early, harrowing days of the pandemic.” But for a second-in-command to such a disruptive figure, Pence dwells little on Trump’s motivations, which makes the story’s climax—Trump’s 2020 election denials and the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection—impossible for him to reconcile. How could such a selfless patriot fall under the sway of bad lawyers and conspiracy theorists? God only knows. Chalk it up to Pence's forgiving nature. In the lengthy acknowledgments he thanks seemingly everybody he’s known personally or politically; but one name’s missing.

Disingenuous when not willfully oblivious.

Pub Date: Nov. 15, 2022

ISBN: 9781982190330

Page Count: 560

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Nov. 16, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2022

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A lovely, sometimes challenging testament to the universality of human nature.


The creator of the hit internet series Humans of New York takes it global, chasing down a panoply of interesting stories.

In 1955, Edward Steichen staged a show called “The Family of Man,” a gathering of photographs that emphasized the commonality of humankind. Stanton’s project seemingly has much the same ambition. “You’ve created this magic little corner of the Web where people feel safe sharing their stories—without being ridiculed, or bullied, or judged,” he writes. “These stories are only honestly shared because they have a long history of being warmly received.” The ask is the hard part: approaching a total stranger and asking him or her to tell their stories. And what stories they are. A young Frenchwoman, tearful, recounts being able to see things from the spirit world that no one else can see. “And it’s been a very lonely existence since then,” she says. A sensible teenager in St. Petersburg, Russia, relates that her friends are trying to be grown-up, smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol, whereas she wants to remain a child close to her parents: “I’d like these times to last as long as possible.” A few stories are obnoxious, as with a Dutch incel who has converted himself into a pickup artist and outright cad: “Of course it’s manipulation, but why should I care? I’ve been manipulated so many times in my life.” A great many stories, some going for several pages but most taking up just a paragraph or two, are regretful, speaking to dashed dreams and roads not taken. A surprising number recount mental illness, depression, and addiction; “I’d give anything to have a tribe,” says a beleaguered mother in Barcelona. Some are hopeful, though, such as that of an Iranian woman: “I’ve fallen in love with literature. I try to read for one or two hours every day. I only have one life to live. But in books I can live one thousand lives.”

A lovely, sometimes challenging testament to the universality of human nature.

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-11429-7

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2020

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