Guest Blogger Book Review: "This Town" by Mark Leibovich

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

This post was written by a guest blogger, Timothy Karcich. 

“Washington is a ‘real city,’” writes Mark Leibovich, Chief National Correspondent for the New York Times Magazine, “but This Town is a state of belonging, a status and a commodity.” Not coincidentally, the District of Columbia is also the richest metropolitan area in the United States. Whether you’re New Media or Old Media, a flack, a lobbyist or a congressman, your first priority is to drive your brand, but Leibovich also writes that you know you’ve really made it in D.C. when someone says “it isn’t clear what he does” about you. The subtitle of This Town says it all—Two Parties and a Funeral (Plus Plenty of Valet Parking!) in America’s Gilded Capital—but whatever you want to call the Washington establishment permanent feudal class in Washington, let it be known: “the city exists to be condemned.” 

Leibovich doesn’t exactly condemn Washington in This Town but he does name names and give plenty of cause for shame. The book examines the time period from Tim Russert’s death in June 2008 to The Last Party in December 2012, and it focuses on The Club. The Club is the network of unelected “insiders” that run Washington, a cast of characters that includes “superlawyer” Bob Barnett, Terry “the Macker” McAuliffe, “access peddler” Tammy Haddad, Politico’s Mike Allen and about 496 others. Readers will learn some about figures like President Obama (he’s quite sensitive to Vice President Biden’s feelings) and Secretary of State Clinton (she shows almost maternal concern when it comes to the health issues of friends) but This Town mostly discusses the culture of Washington: the importance of an effective “rollout strategy,” how government officials might “monetize their government service” after their term is up, and what the D.C. scalp stare is. 

While there is a narrative that Washington follows, there isn’t one in This Town. Nor is there a main character to root for. Rather, Leibovich is content to keep the City of Washington as the main character. That might be boring and one-dimensional to some but I found learning the names of restaurants like the Palm and hotels like the Jefferson to be great fun. The Regrettable Remarks (RR) had me laughing all the way through, and the rise and fall and rise again story of Kurt Bardella was genuine and sympathetic. For anyone with the urge to be there and understand culture, This Town delivers. There isn’t an exceptionally surprising or fresh story told in this book, but there are details you won’t find anywhere else. Glorious, glorious details.

FULL DISCLOSURE: I work for the newly merged Penguin Random House (Blue Rider Press is a Penguin imprint). I watched Bill Moyers’s interview with Mark Leibovich and had to read the book right away. It was hilarious and I wanted to review it. Any other conflicts of interest are stupid and irrelevant.

- Timothy Karcich, Guest Blogger