HISTORY

American Political Humor

ABC-CLIO. Oct. 2019. 673p. ed. by ed. by Jody C. Baumgartner. ISBN 9781440854859. $204. REF
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Baumgartner (political science, East Carolina Univ.; Conventional Wisdom and American Elections) and more than 90 contributors track the evolution of humor through American history, from the colonial era to present. Baumgartner differentiates between political satire, which delivers a message about a politician or a policy’s deficiencies, and political comedy, which is primarily intended to entertain. Organized by era, with each of the final four sections devoted to a presidency, stopping midway through the Trump administration, the work covers humorists many readers will recognize, such as political cartoonist Thomas Nast, 30 Rock creator and Saturday Night Live alum Tina Fey, and journalist and political satirist P.J. O’Rourke, as well as lesser-known individuals (18th-century journalist and essayist Philip Freneau; columnist Art Hoppe). Contributors also spotlight TV (All in the Family; Spy; South Park; Key & Peele), films, cartoons, websites, and magazines. Humorists who came to prominence under one presidential administration, then continued into the next, have no entries in the later section. Section introductions, however, offer more context (though unfortunately introductions are not indexed). These, and Baumgartner’s general overview, are clear and scholarly; sequentially, they chronicle 400 years of laughter at political foibles and failings. Similarly, the profiles are models of academic investigation, providing a summary of the political climate and the development of the media. Further reading, see-also references, a chronology, and a bibliography aid researchers.
VERDICT Students of politics, journalism, and culture, as well as political mavens, will benefit from the scope, expertise, and viewpoints here.

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