When BenBella books contacted me about reviewing Underdogma, they really didn’t have to talk me into it. The tagline reads “How America’s enemies use our love of the Underdog to trash American power” and as soon as I saw that, I was intrigued.
The book makes a simple but undeniable case: that our culture has become so accustomed to hating everything big – from the New York Yankees to Wall Street “fat cats” – that we associate smallness with goodness and bigness with badness without thinking through the implications of that belief. Ultimately, Prell holds that such a view leads to our self-destruction, since we are arguably the biggest superpower the world has ever known.
It’s hard to argue with, especially with the recent Israeli/Palestine bizness all over the news. He even tells about a study in which two groups of participants were told exactly the same story about the Arab/Israeli conflict, only in one version, a graphic was provided which showed Israel as a tiny country, and in the other, a graphic showed Israel as a large country. Guess which group sided with Israel and which didn’t?
Other fascinating glimpses are politicians trying to be “just like” the average American voter, (Did anyone else cringe when President Obama said “MissourAH” the other day?) riots on college campuses fighting against a vague sense of “big badness” and even the roots of the completely illogical 9/11 Truth movement.
All in all, it’s an interesting and impressive treatise on an illogical philosophy that has become accepted truth and I highly recommend it. I only have one beef with the book and it has nothing to do with the content, but rather the style in which it’s presented. At the end of every chapter and elsewhere throughout the book, Prell references himself, begging the reader to “for more go to under-dogma.com” or “read chapter 13, Underdogma in the world”. This bothers me because it seems unseemly; desperate, almost. I’m clearly already reading your book, which means that I am engaged in your content. You don’t have to beg me to keep reading, and doing so is more likely to prevent me from further research than push me toward it. Also, it really disturbs me when Conservatives are not confident in their message, and I think it’s a common problem. (Also a reason why staunch Conservative voices like Sarah Palin, Ron Paul and Rush Limbaugh continue to have so much power – they don’t beg for attention or apologize for their views – a rarity in the popularity contest of media and politics.) Package your book like the work of art and knowledge that it is, and let it stand on its own – don’t beg us to participate in a forum or continue to read it – if it’s compelling enough, we’ll do so without any harassment.
While this is a niggling concern, I still enjoyed and found myself thinking deeply about Underdogma long after I’d finished it. It’s a good read, and also a great book to give to a friend who might not agree with your political views – while Prell is clearly a Conservative, this is the kind of book that would merely be informative and start conversations with an open-minded liberal or moderate friend, not (hopefully) make them feel marginalized or attacked.
(Full disclosure: BenBella Books sent me Underdogma and the awesome USA foam hand in exchange for writing this review, but all opinions are honest and my own. And, yes, I plan on chanting “USA!” and waving my foam hand at every opportunity.)