by Dave Barry

Random House


180pp/$24.95/October 2001

Dave Barry Hits Below the Beltway
Cover by Bill Wax

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

The timing for the publication of Dave Barry’s newest book, Dave Barry Hits Below the Beltway, is rather interesting.  The novel is a humorous and biting look at the federal government at a time when it seems many people are refusing the criticize the government in the wake of the September 11 attacks and the bombing of Afghanistan.  However, Barry’s book is not a topical look at the government of today, but at traditional governmental bureaucracies with a focus on last year’s presidential election and the Florida results.

The last portion of the book is the most humorous, taken, as it is, from real life.  Barry claims the best way to avoid a recurrence of last year’s election aftermath is to remove South Florida from the Union.  To support his views, he notes several oddities of South Florida politics.  However, his linkage to South Florida is weak at best since many of the same types of political hijinks occur throughout the country.

Some of the book covers similar ground to Barry’s earlier Dave Barry Slept Here (1989).  He provides a history of the United States government which begins with Barry's version of the pilgrims and includes a clever rewriting of the Constitution, which incorporates some articles which should actually be made into law (Article II, Section 1j*).

Dave Barry Hits Below the Beltway is somewhat hit or miss, with large portions of the book lacking humor while other parts make the reader laugh out loud.  However the funny bits definitely outweigh the unfunny bits.  Barry also manages to walk the fine line between the political parties, feeling free to comment on both the Republicans and the Democrats without appearing partisan.  In fact, he notes that he met both of the candidates in the 2000 Presidential campaign and found Gore to be less wooden and Bush more intelligent than their popular representations.

In fact, rather than attack the candidates in his discussion of the 2000 election (which forms a major portion of the book), Barry turns his attention to the media which zeroed in on the aftermath of the election as if it were a circus or celebrity trial.  He points out the lunacy with which the networks and newspapers attempted to gain a scoop when there was nothing to report.

Shortly after the September attacks, Barry commented that he wasn't going to write a humor column because his readership wasn't in the mood to read one and he wasn't in the mood to write one.  Once the initial shock and horror were over, however, humor becomes a vital part of the healing process and Dave Barry Hits Below the Beltway manages to contribute to the process.  The fact that the book tackles government, which seems as if it is currently above reproach, is just an added bonus.


*Actually, the words "World Series" should be replaced by the word "baseball"

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