Because seemingly every nonfiction book these days needs a title that just rolls off the tongue, the full title of this book is The Grouchy Historian: An Old-Time Lefty Defends Our Constitution Against Right-Wing Hypocrites and Nutjobs. So as you can probably tell, there’s some bias in play here. And that’s perfectly fine; sometimes understanding where the bias is and why is the entire point of the exercise.
Ed Asner is a storied actor and one of Hollywood’s most famous curmudgeons. That he narrates this one himself (and offers up a full performance) is part of the reason I chose to go through this one in audio format. Stripping away the performance and personality, he’s still one of us hardworking Americans with an opinion he’d like to get off his chest, one that he backs with (if you’ll excuse the pun) liberal amounts of mind-blowing facts (including court cases) and trademark gruff humor. Both of these tools in hand, he proceeds to confront and systematically dismantle the right-wing talking points as we understand them today. In the process, he offers up some disturbing truths that many of these points have been in play since the beginning, that they have led to some rather heinous crimes in our history, and the “facts” as we understand them today are anything but. Many of the people we put on pedestals fall off under the weight of their own humanity.
Admittedly, some of the cleverness of the more humorous bits actually undermines the very points he’s making, but facts are still facts, and all of them are verifiable. From the idea of who actually benefits from the Bill of Rights, to religion and the state, to the concept of eugenics, and beyond, Asner brings a sobering account of our nation’s spotty history into focus. The unfortunate part is that the actual target audience of this book will never read it, and those who are aware of it will simply call it “fake news.” That’s how far it’s come in this country. According to Asner, it’s not the first time we’ve been here.
As brilliant and terrifying as some of the talking points are here, I found that I could only take so much of it at one time, so thorough is the verbal bludgeoning. Some of it is repetitive as he addresses specific right-wing
pedants pundits point by point, many of which overlap. There are some hard truths here, many too hard to swallow. Nor should we try to do so. The point Asner is bringing to the table is just how much inhumane and criminal action has been taken in the name of the American people, and how often we proceed from false assumption. It’s not exactly a book designed to heal the already widening gulfs in our society. The purpose is to spotlight why it’s there, and how long it’s been there. Or perhaps its purpose is simply to fire back against the loudmouths who keep twisting facts to suit their immediate goals. Either way, it’s still an interesting read.