The Book Of Vice: Very Naughty Things (And How To Do Them) is written by Peter Sagal, the host of the popular NPR news quiz Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me! He goes behind the scenes of some common (and not so common) vices: gambling, swinging, gluttony, pornography, consumption, etc. to reveal what they say about our society.
For those of you looking for a how to guide, say The Idiot’s Guide To How To Tip A Stripper, this is not that book. Despite the subtitle, this is not a primer on how to commit vice. For that you’ll have to keep reading the advice columns in certain men’s magazines. (See? You really do get them for the articles!)
For all the hedonistic activities Sagal discusses going on in America, most of which was news to me, I found the most interesting chapter to be the one on lying.
He parses the lies told by one of the most prominent liars of recent times, Bill Clinton. The former president’s lies to the American public, and by extension his wife, about the Lewinsky affair set a new standard for obfuscation. Sagal points out that the line, with finger wagging, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky” has joined the pantheon of all-time lies along with “The check is in the mail” and “The dog ate my homework.”
In a section that seems to be a primer for talk radio, Sagal cleverly deconstructs how to lie properly. He uses as an example how to prove that Massachusetts does not exist:
Step One: Appear reasonable. Set up a group called the Committee for Inquiry into New England.
Step Two: Teach that there is a controversy when one doesn’t exist. The fact that you made up your side of the controversy is irrelevant.
Step Three: Project your motives and methods onto the other side. Impugn the intentions of those who are trying to prove that Massachusetts does exist. What are they hoping to gain from it?
Step Four: Make your arguments specific and seemingly verifiable. If “Harvard” is a real university with a real football team, then why is it never on national television?
Step Five: Never give in. Ever.
This five step formula can be seen in everything from the Swift Boat attacks on John Kerry to the birthers.
Although Barrack Obama’s birth certificate has been released, and also verified by the Republican Governor of Hawaii, it doesn’t stop radio personalities like Rush Limbaugh from continuing to say, “Why doesn’t he release his birth certificate? What is he trying to hide?”
Sagal also delves into why people commit vices. He uses as an example former Reagan cabinet member, William Bennett. Bennett is the author of “The Book Of Virtues” and “The Children’s Book Of Virtues.”
It turns out that in between writing chapters about “Self-Discipline” and “Responsibility”, Bennett was spending many, many evenings blowing the royalties from his books at Las Vegas slot machines. Probably not the best activity for someone who was scolding a certain sector of the American public for not being virtuous enough.
Overall Sagal’s droll sense of humor infuses the book and makes even the tawdry seem entertaining.