Parliament of Whores by P.J. O’Rourke (1991, Atlantic Monthly Press)
This is P.J. O’Rourke’s fourth book, and I believe it is his defining work. Already an old hand at humor writing due to nearly two decades in the field, O’Rourke had become steadily more political through years as a war correspondent, freelance essayist, and satirist.
During the election campaign of 1988 he started work on this, which would eventually be subtitled “A lone humorist attempts to explain the entire U.S. Government.” By analyzing the mechanisms and agencies of government rather than individual politicians and bureaucrats, he generally succeeds.
He details his efforts with the Guardian Angels to help in areas of urban blight. He speaks to bureaucrats investigating spontaneous acceleration in cars. He talks to Congressmen. He talks to farmers. At each point along the path, he breaks down what he encounters for the entertainment, but also the edification, of the reader.
It’s difficult for someone to take a hard look at the political system without becoming cynical, and even comparatively early in O’Rourke’s political career, the cynicism seeps from the pages. But hope is there, too, as if the author is telling you, “I know it’s bad, but come on, we might be able to fix it, at least a little bit. Now let me see you smile.”
I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve given copies of this book to people as a way to introduce them to politics. I expect more copies to be handed out in the future, not least of which will be to my daughter, when she gets just a little bit older.
A Hymn Before Battle by John Ringo (2000, Baen Books)
In 2003, I asked Jim Baen, the publisher for this book, what book from his extensive line he’d most recommend (assuming he’d recommend all of them); he immediately directed me to this. It is Ringo’s first book, and the first in his “Posleen War / Legacy of the Aldenata” series.
The book starts off at a fast pace and progresses quickly. Earth is embroiled in a war with a destructive alien enemy. Unlike many of the books that follow the “alien war” concept popularized in Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, this war is taking place on Earth as well as two other worlds. Two other worlds, because Earth has allies in the form of a federation of friendly alien races.
The book chronicles the action against the Posleen in a way that focuses as much on the combat action as the difficulties inherent with a command structure that, while having good intent, often has very different views than those of the ground forces.
There is even cross-promotion in the series with a popular web comic, Sluggy Freelance.
Ringo spent time in an Airborne division of the U.S. Army, and his experience colors the book in a completely positive way. The author, however, has been among the most protested in science fiction due to his outspoken views.
Curious readers are specifically cautioned about the “Ghost” series. I have heard Ringo personally warn people about it. That series is an attempt to sell to an otherwise missing market, the “Men’s Adventure” genre popularized in the 1970s, and is intentionally cartoonish in the presentation of its violence and sexuality, although the mechanics of the writing remains on the author’s usual level.