Truthfully, I would rather read a 1000 page novel than a 200 page nonfiction book. Nonfiction often seems like soybeans--good for me and good for the planet but not very interesting--often bland and hard to digest at the same time. That's why I decided to write to tell you about why I liked Crashing the Gate
so much. Here are my criteria:
* How long did it take me to read it? My house is littered with the corpses of worthwhile nonfiction books that I am "in the process of reading." Sometimes I finish them eventually, and sometimes they just lie around for months. In the case of Crashing the Gate, I read the whole thing yesterday in between driving my daughter to church and cleaning up the family room. It's not just that it's short (177 pages) but that it was so interesting I didn't want to stop reading until I was done.
* What is the word-count-to-idea ratio? Too many nonfiction authors take one or two good ideas and try to spin them into a lengthy best seller. Their primary literary device is mind-numbing repetition. In contrast, Crashing the Gate is full of fascinating facts, pithy quotes, and new (to me anyway) ideas about American political life and the Democratic Party. For example, Markos and Jerome explain why paying consultants a commission instead of a flat fee may contribute to lost elections (commissions result in costly, ineffective ad placements, rich consultants, and lost elections). They point out how more sophisticated scrutiny of voter beliefs (which surprisingly--to me--the Dems are way behind on) can prevent the Democratic Party from writing off large swaths of the country as hopelessly red. I assumed that Democrats had the edge in technology and public relations but apparently not--although we undoubtedly have the creative potential.
* Did I learn anything useful? The answer to this one is definitely yes. Among other things, Markos and Jerome provided believable explanations, with lots of specific facts, quotes, and anecdotes to back them up, about why sending money to liberal, single-focus causes has lately felt so futile, and why coalition politics doesn't work when you are a minority party. They also offer insight into why the neocons have succeeded so appallingly when they offer so little to the average American, why running a Democratic candidate in every race in every state is a winning strategy, not just a noble gesture, why Karl Rove focused on co-opting the Texas and national judiciary, and what needs to be done organizationally in terms of communicating compelling ideas, running campaigns effectively, and training and supporting progressive activists at all levels to get the country back on track. (The fact that I could tell you more or less what they said about each of these issues is, in itself, a tribute to the clarity and persuasiveness of their writing. However, I'm not going to because you should read the book for yourself!)
If you haven't had a chance yet to read the book, and even if your general approach to reading nonfiction is determined avoidance, I really recommend this book. It's enlightening and points the way for the progressive movement to do things differently and more effectively. Although I've never met either of the authors, I'm glad they are out there spreading the word.