Do you like books that piss you off? Are you drawn, much to your wife’s dismay, to the sort of nonfiction best sellers that turn you into a cocktail-party Travis Bickle, ranting and frothing and bugging out with rage and paranoia until all the nice people at the neighborhood potluck start to back away from the Swedish meatballs? If so, then sit back, raise a toast to your inner Archie Bunker, and prepare to get grumpy as hell. —J. G.
Is the American Dream Killing You?
by Paul Stiles
Burned out? Hey, Paul Stiles was feeling that way too when (after stints at Merrill Lynch and in Silicon Valley) he began to explore the grim manifesto at the heart of this book. “I was actually kind of exhausted from the business world,” he says. “It just turned my stomach to the point where I didn’t feel like I could participate.” In chapter after chapter—each one stuffed with scarily mounting heaps of data—Stiles looks at how that sense of being plowed under by a barrage of daily pressures is the sour backwash of a global economy careening out of control. He argues, among other things, that the hypermarket is tearing you away from your children, razing your town to make way for one big ugly coast-to-coast strip mall, vulgarizing and dehumanizing entertainment, making you fat, smothering your sex drive, and digging a gap the size of the Grand Canyon between the haves and the have-nots. “The people running the country no longer care,” Stiles says. “Their values have changed to the point where it’s every man for himself.” After writing the book, not surprisingly, Stiles cashed out and moved his family to the Canary Islands.
Confessions of an Economic Hit Man
by John Perkins
One of the oddest best sellers in a while (it feels like something that could have been a creepy paranoia blockbuster starring Robert Redford in the post-Watergate years), Confessions of an Economic Hit Man is part adventure tale and part screed. “This is a true story,” writes Perkins. “I lived every minute of it.” Assuming we can believe him, Perkins went into the Peace Corps and then began working in the early seventies as a sort of international covert agent for the American corporate machine: He was an economic hit man, one of scores of “highly paid professionals who cheat countries around the globe out of trillions of dollars,” as he puts it. His job was to persuade world leaders to take on massive economic development projects—and the massive debt that comes with them. Which would, subsequently, make those countries politically and financially subservient to the United States—while making a few American companies ridiculously rich. (If you’ve ever wondered exactly what Halliburton does, hey, here’s a fun place to start.) But what’s the personal incentive for an eager young chap? “It’s kind of a fantasy life,” Perkins says. “You stay in the best hotels, you eat in the best restaurants, you get a virtually unlimited expense account. If you’re looking for women or drugs or anything along those lines, it comes easily to you.” But (and this is the screed part) Perkins wound up experiencing a crisis of conscience that led him to quit the business and, eventually, to spill the beans in this book. “We truly have built up a slave economy around the world. We’re just not calling it that,” Perkins says on the phone. “People today who are making less than two dollars a day—and more than half the world’s population is in that category—are worse off, many of them, than the slaves on our pre–Civil War plantations. We’ve managed to go against all of the principles that I as a kid was raised to believe are what had made America great.”