Book review: This Town, by Mark Leibovich

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 28 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 28 July, 2013, 5:33pm

This Town
by Mark Leibovich
Blue Rider Press
3.5 stars

Of all the irritating things about Washington, DC - the phoniness, the showy cars, the utter inability of 6.9 million people to produce a single decent slice of pizza or a passable submarine sandwich with oil and not mayonnaise - none is more infuriating than the local insider habit of referring to the place as "this town".

So when Mark Leibovich sketches a portrait of the nation's capital - a phrase used only by people who don't live there - and calls it This Town, you know he has a sharp ear, and a sharp eye to accompany it. You also know he has the sharp knives out.

Leibovich is an insider, first a reporter at The Washington Post, now chief national correspondent for The New York Times Magazine, yet he seems to wear those special glasses that allow you to X-ray the outside and see what's really going on in the capital.

In the old days, Washington - then as now a place where "disproportionate numbers of residents lie about reading The Economist" - was pretty much a bar where everyone knew your name. Now it's far less personal - but the personal matters far more and so do personalities.

This book is a wiseguy's tour d'horizon of an entire city trying out for the role of Washington wise man.

Much of this volume is a send-up of the capital of kissing up but there are some important insights tucked in among the barbs. Such as this: "Though Barack Obama won the 2008 election, Hillary Clinton won Obama's first term." And this: the political culture is full of "people who've been around the business forever, who never go away and can't be killed".

So here's to all the big mouths, big egos, big shots, big machers and big jerks - Leibovich is on to every one of you, and his portrayal of This Town (subtitled Two Parties and a Funeral - Plus Plenty of Valet Parking! - in America's Gilded Capital) is spot on. Because Leibovich realises that Washington, once an inside joke, now looks increasingly like a bad joke.

The New York Times