The title of personal finance writer Zac Bissonnette‘s new book, Good Advice From Bad People, is high-concept enough to give the average book store jacket peruser a pretty fair idea of what’s to come. “Hmm… It’s an advice book, but said advice comes from awful people? Sounds like a riot!” And it is, but more on that in a minute. Anyways, the only mystery then would be who exactly is going to be included in a book like this? There have been quite a few nefarious individuals throughout history, and not all of them could have possibly been spewing evil, supervillainous monologues 24-7, so which direction are we headed? Are we talking about megalomaniacal dictators and despotic rulers who at least made the trains run on time? Motivational speakers and advice gurus who have strayed from the path of righteousness? The long title gives us a clue: “Selected Wisdom from Murderers, Stock Swindlers, and Lance Armstrong.” Aha, so we’re going modern then, with a focus on Americans.
The good news about Good Advice for Bad People is that the subject matter and the author are both funny as hell. Most if not all of the “bad people” in question are very recognizable to anyone who’s been in the vicinity of a television during the last 20 years, and Mr Bissonnette wields a dry skewer in dealing with each and every one of them. The basic setup is perfect for small attention spans and those who wish to avoid accusations of overly lengthy toilet malfeasance: each entry begins with a sensible quote, followed by a 1-page (usually) description of the unfortunate subject the quote is attributed to.
Subjects from various walks of life are targeted, with some being easier marks than others. Exposing the hypocrisy of financial advice “experts” and religious swindlers is always satisfying. However, going after sadly dimwitted athletes like Lenny Dykstra and Jose Canseco almost seems like barrel fishing. Admittedly, it couldn’t have been easy whittling down the list of potential entries on a topic like this. The process likely involved the author’s personal taste, which leads me to the “not good news” paragraph.
The bad news, at least to approximately 50% of the voting populace, is that it appears that sometimes the only qualification for being a “bad” person is to be on the conservative side of the political spectrum, at least according to the book. By my count, there were exactly twice as many entries about people with a well-known Republican affiliation than those aligned with the donkey. And while figures like Donald Trump and Michael Savage (formerly Weiner — never forget) are certainly ripe for ridicule, it seems somewhat unfair to label someone like Herman Cain a “bad person” solely based on some unproven allegations of impropriety during a presidential campaign. I’ll go ahead and say it, the book is a little biased.
Now I realize I can’t say something like that without being immediately arraigned on charges of pulling something out of my ass in order to please my cult masters at the Rush Limbaugh/Fox News Temple of Infinite Outrage against the Liberal Media — so I actually counted beans. Some of the subjects were a little hard to pin down precisely (few want to claim Robert McNamara or Dick Morris as part of their club), and a couple could have fit into more than one category, but I came up with…
— 17 entries involving advice gurus (financial, relationship, etc.)
— 14 religious figures.
— 13 famous athletes.
— 12 Republicans.
— 6 Democrats.
— 2 Presidents: Richard Nixon and George W. Bush.
The rest were made up of failed CEOs of major corporations (10), one actual major corporation (Enron), and then a smattering of disgraced writers, academics and “impresarios.” Yes, it’s only a difference of six between the (D)s and the (R)s, but I couldn’t help but also notice that when people like John Edwards, Eliot Spitzer and Rod Balgojevich were brought up there was nary a mention of which party they batted for. But when Newt Gingrich, William Bennett and others were discussed, words like “GOP,” “Tea Party type,” and “neo-Victorian” were gleefully sprinkled throughout. But enough about that.
So as long as you’re okay with a little selective judgmentalism, Good Advice from Bad People is a highly enjoyable read for all fans of schadenfreude and foes of hypocrisy. It’s my hope that Mr Bissonnette someday expands on the premise, and perhaps tackles some of the odious figures from the distant past who happened to say something that made sense once in awhile. Even if they were liberals.
E. Reid Ross loves the ladies, and by “ladies” we mean “microwaveable burritos purchased in bulk.” Feel free to friend him on Facebook, follow him on Twitter and check out his supple body of work over on Cracked.com. He and a few pals also blaspheme old comics at RealToyGun.com.