9 Presidents Who Screwed Up America by Brion McClanahan Regnery History (e-book) 3.5/5 stars Had historian Brion McClanahan waited a little longer to publish his original take on what makes a president champion or chump he could have hit double figures, such are the probable forthcoming nominations. But this is a serious analysis and a popularity contest it isn’t – hence the surprising skewering of presidents usually and emotively considered successes, among them Barack Obama, Franklin D. Roosevelt, even Abraham Lincoln. Americans love their constitution and will use it to justify anything; how odd then that, as McClanahan demonstrates, they concurrently, wistfully, lionise those presidents who have most successfully destroyed, emasculated or ignored constitutional government to raise state militia, obliterate capitalism, nationalise industries, trample civil liberties and usher the United States into war. If the nine are villains, however, McClanahan also offers four heroes who “tried to save” America: Jefferson, Tyler, Cleveland and Coolidge, who variously cut taxes, torpedoed unnecessary legislation and were cautious over foreign policy. The country, he argues, labours under an “imperial presidency” and that, “Congress has abandoned … their legal authority to challenge the president, and the people have decided it is easier to vote … for a virtual dictator than place their hope in Congress”. A Girl from Oz by Lyndall Hobbs Hardie Grant Books (e-book) 2/5 stars If you can shoulder your way through the thicket of dropped names (Andy Warhol, Prince Charles, David Frost, Sheryl Crow and a very casually mentioned ex, Al Pacino) and move past the cliché block party to which all the usual suspects have been invited (crack of dawn, no rest for the wicked, bat out of hell, Down Under) you’ll discover a moderately entertaining, somewhat sickly autobiography full of breathless self-wonder. Lyndall Hobbs, as per the volume’s title, likes to convey the impression that she’s still really just a lil’ ole suburban girl from Melbourne who stumbled into the champagne jet set. She’s not: she’s a sometime Hollywood feature film director and music video maker who began as a print journalist with buckets of determination, and looks and charm to match, who copped her big break in Britain by becoming its youngest TV reporter (as a woman, no less) and later an indispensible part of the London luvvie clan, and finally a fixture in Los Angeles Rolodexes. Her grace and humour do, however, alleviate her progress through her skirmish with cancer and reflections on her parents’ wartime and post-war struggles; it’s then that Hobbs sounds least Hello! -magazine brassy. Moranifesto by Caitlin Moran Random House Audiobooks (audiobook) 3.5/5 stars Not just another rent-a-quote columnist with an agenda (although she is eminently quotable), Times columnist Caitlin Moran probably could fix the planet and most people on it if enough of us listened. Gender and wealth inequality, refugee crises, the scourge of personal debt and climatic catastrophe star in the politicised part of the book; pop-culture reflections and the social-media-inspired burgeoning of human connectivity in the rest. Had shoot-from-the-lip Moran narrated the book herself, it might have earned an additional star, but Joanna Neary does invest proceedings with the requisite dry wit required by Moran’s eloquent spearing (or assessment) of everything crossing her sights. She writes with manifest intelligence and common sense while remaining hilariously opinionated – about the UN’s deliberations on whether bombing Syria would bring peace; immigrants spoiling tourists’ Mediterranean holidays; the dangers of being “drunk on Wi-fi” while sending uninhibited text messages; how the rich aren’t really evil c****, but are merely blithe. Sadly, no matter how much sound as well as amusing advice we receive, we’re never really going to change ourselves, our politicians, the country or the planet. But we might as well have a good laugh while not doing it.