I Wouldn't Start From Here

[Amazon Link]

This book's subtitle is "The 21st Century and Where It All Went Wrong". The author, Andrew Mueller, is originally from Australia and currently lives in London.

The book came with sterling recommendations: P. J. O'Rourke calls Mueller "the best foreign correspondent of this generation" right there on the front cover. Shawn Macomber gave it a rave review in the Washington Times, in which he compared Mueller to, in addition to O'Rourke, Jon Ronson and David Foster Wallace. I like all those guys!

So I wish I liked the book a little better. I blame myself. Part of the problem is that I'm not very interested in screwed up foreign countries. There are so many.

Most chapters describe Mueller's visits to various world hotspots over the past few years: Gaza, Iraq, Afghanistan, Cameroon, Serbia, and so on. Mueller has a keen eye for the ridiculous, a gift for colorful writing, and a knack for interviewing people in all of the local niches. The book jumps around a lot in time and space; the underlying theme is Mueller's quest to understand why we can't just all get along.

The chapter set in Cameroon is a comic gem, as Mueller is tossed in jail for attending a meeting of a dissident group. His jailers are laid back, and people in charge don't quite know what to do with him. If you need to get jailed for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, Cameroon is probably your best choice among African nations.

Mueller is much less of a fan of Israel than I am—when he's in the area, he's continually referring to Israeli arrogance and overreaction. But he's honest enough to be dismayed at the Palestinian proclivity for murderous violence, at least when he bothers to notice it.

Things get worse when Mueller touches on American politics. Although he's thoroughly in love with American ideals, he's also thoroughly taken in by the Gospel According to MSNBC. One of his interviewees is Al Gore, whose, according to Shawn, "pomposity he captures in full plume." That may be, but there's no indication that Mueller is anything other than in despair that Gore lost in 2000; he also describes the 2000 Florida vote as "fixed", an assertion that can't stand up to scrutiny.

If anything, Mueller is utterly enraptured by Obama; his afterword, written in post-election November of last year, is a complete swoon. Dismaying to those of us who found both Candidate and President Obama to be a posturing phony, and find his worshipful cult of personality to be profoundly disturbing.

But still, Mueller's the kind of guy that would be fun to hang around with. He lives a much more interesting life than I, and probably you, do. And he's happy to tell you about it.

Mueller's website is right here, with plenty of writing examples, should be enough to judge whether he floats your boat.

Last Modified 2012-10-07 7:56 AM EDT