Bad Stories: What the Hell Just Happened to Our Country is a compelling examination of how the stories that have come to be conventional wisdom are undermining civic life, democracy, and our country. Organized around sixteen bad stories, Steve Almond explains how widely accepted ideas are not just false, they are damaging.

One of the things that drive me crazy is how fundamentally unserious people are about politics. Reporters talk about the horse race, not the policy. They talk about how a policy polls, not how it will affect our lives. It’s as though it’s a game and we’re the audience, not the process of deciding what kind of country we will be and the quality of our lives. Almond identifies this as his sixth bad story, “What Amuses Us Can’t Harm Us” and succinctly captures the problem I think is central to our dysfunction.

But there are fifteen more bad stories and while many will be familiar to anyone paying attention, some are new, with a well-argued case. For example, Bad Stories Thirteen and Fourteen, “There’s No Such Thing as Fair and Balanced” and “The Vast Right Wing Conspiracy Was Just a Conspiracy.” Now, I know how the death of the Fairness Doctrine led to the array of one-sided propaganda networks, but this chapter is revelatory in how avoidable this disaster should have been. I also know all about the Arkansas Project, the conspiracy to unseat Bill Clinton, but it’s really amazing how well-informed Hillary was about the entire conspiracy then and now.

This is one of those books I will encourage everyone to read. True, it’s full of depressing explanations for how dysfunctional we have become, how broken our democracy is. However, there is also hope–hope found in acknowledging the stories and telling better, truer ones.

Bad Stories: What the Hell Just Happened to Our Country is also well-written, with insight from literature and history. Almond is able to deliver a lot of information with clarity and brevity. He sums up the entire e-mail scandal in a paragraph, something I wish Hillary could have done. He is possibly over fond of Herman Melville, but that is a minor flaw.

If you want to understand what happened, read this book.

I received a copy of Bad Stories: What the Hell Just Happened to Our Country from the publisher through Shelf Awareness.