Two Books--by Molly Ivins and Hunter S. Thompson--

Reviewed by Joe Rosenberg

Hey Rube: Blood Sport. The Bush Doctrine and the Downward Spiral of Dumbness
Modern History from the Sports Desk

by Hunter S. Thompson
Simon and Schuster, 2004

At the risk of appearing terminally anti-hip--I think that Michael Moore, Molly Ivins and Hunter S. Thompson form a trio of over-hyped un-funny writers of the left.

I imagine this may have been Thompson’s last book. If that’s the case, it's just as well, because this one only rarely sparks with the creativity and angst that made political writers like Teddy White a cliché. Like a burned-out volcano, Thompson alludes to his own mortality and basically parodies Johnny Depp playing the author. Like an old comedian, you can tell the coming punch line pretty far ahead in these approximately 40 essays spanning 243 pages. Writing “sports” for ESPN, Thompson keeps up a running dialogue about his bets, courtship and marriage, and guys he knows--famous and not, turning from the creative commentary of his “Fear and Loathing” books into a rambling discourse much like a late-night discourse by Truman Capote. There are still a few one-liners worthy of a chuckle, but the awe is gone. There are hints here and there of Thompson’s ennui that presage his recent suicide-- fascinating in a ghoulish way, and I agree with the tenor of his political jabs. But they are the soft blows of a besotted ex-champion like Joe Louis, who needed one more payday to meet the “nut."

Who Let the Dogs Out: Incredible Animals I have Known
by Molly Ivins
Random House, 2004

On the other hand, Molly Ivins' tome is more ambitious. Even before you open the book, two things strike the reader: (1) On both the front and back covers there are pictures of dogs who look like politicians, drawn by Steve Brodner. These are pretty funny, especially the one of Dick Cheney; and (2) Ms. Ivins’ name is above the title. In its 356 pages, Ivins takes on politicians from Reagan to the present, and subjects the vast hypocrisy that envelops the country to ridicule and scorn. However cogent these pieces may be, they seem stale and recycled. Columnist Liz Smith always refers to the author as among the funniest writers out there, but this book doesn’t prove it except for the chapter on Jimmy Carter and the Nobel Prize and John Henry Faulk (who is seriously funny). I think Ms. Ivins is too, but by now, I’ve already encountered most of her observations and witticisms. The problem here for me is there's lot of great writing in this book, but there is little to balance the author’s disaffection with Republicans, conservative and the fundamentalists. Like watching Michael Moore, occasionally you want to come up for air.

I write this on Easter-Schiavo weekend, where toadying politicians and fundamentalists are turning on the judges and cowardly pols who won’t do the “right” thing and vow revenge at the ballot box. This is mostly an intramural fight and one can only wish the old Gonzo man was still around to cover it. I know Ms. Ivins will. It makes one pine for the heady days of Cotton Mather....

Joe Rosenberg, of Baltimore, frequently comments on books for the Chronicle.

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This story was published on March 28, 2005.