The Greatest Story Ever Sold

By Frank Rich. Penguin, $25.95.

Photo: Nick Himmel

Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>0/5

Where does Frank Rich, former drama critic for The New York Times, get off recontextualizing the last five years of history in his unified field theory of America’s military-industrial-infotainment complex? Rich, once unfairly tagged “The Butcher of Broadway,” has been opining in the Gray Lady’s pages—the Arts & Leisure section and currently the Week in Review—for almost as long as he spooked producers (1980 to 1993). And his blow-by-blow account of President Bush’s exploitation of the terrorist attacks does make for exciting, if depressing, reading. Rich knows a world-class extravaganza when he sees it, even when those PR sideshows hide real atrocities.

But it seems fitting for a theater critic to analyze the President and his cronies. To anyone with an eye for politics as performance, Bush has always seemed a community-theater hack surrounded by a multimillion-dollar production with the finest stage managers and acting coaches money can buy. And while Rich doesn’t assay a close reading of the President’s acting, he does anatomize the steps his administration took to turn its unpreparedness for the terrorist attacks into a pretext for war in Iraq and a convenient way to cow the electorate into tacit approval. The author identifies—and condemns—Bush’s smug bubble of privilege and ignorance as the tragic link between the bungled war in Iraq and the government’s catastrophic failure after Hurricane Katrina. For hard-core Beltway wonks, there will be plenty to debate or debunk in this lively, fact-filled polemic. For the concerned layperson, it’s a requisite first volume in the “Crimes of Bush” library that will surely form between now and November 2008.—David Cote