Review of The End of Greatness: Why America Can’t Have (And Doesn’t Want) Another Great President

Author: Aaron David Miller

Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan

I believe the idea for this book is important–I am a strong proponent of the idea that men shape history. But the execution of it was poor. The basic problem is that the book is just short of 250 pages, but because the author repeats the same information and the same claims several times it is clear that it could be half of that and cost substantially less time. It is the number one rule I tell students who want to learn how to write: NEVER repeat yourself, because if the reader did not get what you said the first time, he’s not likely to be any better at getting it the second time, and it assumes a lack of intelligence which can offend more intelligent readers.

But it goes slightly deeper than that. The author’s approach to the book is so basic as to be almost meaningless. Any observer can see without thinking everything he says, so that writing 250 pages about it is a total waste of trees and time. Nor, really, do I think he makes the most relevant point about this topic, which is that greatness requires merit and we have created a society that does not give one damn about merit, in fact often taking every opportunity to smash merit under its enormous foot. In essence the author took a topic about which there is a fair amount of insightful stuff to say and turned it into a boring recap of common sense observation and superficial, high school-level history.

The Best Quote…

Montaigne says! ‘In plain truth, lying is an accursed vice. We are not men, nor have other tie upon one another, but by our word. If we did but discover the horror and gravity of it, we should pursue it with fire and sword, and more justly than other crimes […] If falsehood had, like truth, but one face only, we should be upon better terms; for we should then take for certain the contrary to what the liar says: but the reverse of truth has a hundred thousand forms, and a field indefinite, without bound or limit.’

Perhaps my favorite quote in all that I have read.