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The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil

3.64 of 5 stars 3.64  ·  rating details  ·  3,255 ratings  ·  320 reviews
From the New York Times bestsellingauthor of Tenth of December, a 2013 National Book Award Finalist for Fiction.

In a profoundly strange country called Inner Horner, large enough for only one resident at a time, citizens waiting to enter the country fall under the rule of the power-hungry and tyrannical Phil, setting off a chain of injustice and mass hysteria.

An Animal Far
Paperback, 130 pages
Published September 6th 2005 by Riverhead Trade
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Community Reviews

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ida know. i love george saunders, but this one was just too lightweight for me. i wish i could just stand behind anything george saunders did, but i must remain objective and trustworthy, because of the importance of reviews.
Jacob J.
Personal Preface:
I will begin with something that is sure to become dated very quickly, but the date on which the review is posted can be seen in the top right corner of the review anyway, like a school paper, so I suppose it can become an electronic time capsule, as everything already is on the internet.

So far, not much, I said to myself after asking what I’ve accomplished this night. I'm having one of my strange vibes, even though vibes are abstract concepts. Vines aren’t, they’re tangible, b
Krok Zero
Ok yes, Saunders in fable/allegory mode is not as great as Saunders writing stories about flesh-and-blood characters. And the concept here could play like the most obvious, bush-league satire ever. But I really dug this because it's still a book that only George Saunders could have written. His uniquely stylized dialogue, his anger toward societal injustice, his empathy for emotional turmoil, his boundless imagination, his cracked and hilarious sense of humor--it's all here, in concentrated form ...more
j. ergo
I know this book came out years ago, and I read it years ago, but in aimlessly floating around GR tonight I somehow ended up here and reading reviews of friends, most ranging from disappointment to an almost apologetic, guilty pleasure vibe. It definitely felt like a collective nervousness about a writer everyone wants to be great, even needs to be great, but that was teetering on the brink of being no longer noteworthy. Which kind of sucks because I want and need George Saunders to be great the ...more
Ron Nie
A brief, charming novella about the nature of power and fear. This book started out funny, then, in the way Saunders does so well, became quietly, deeply upsetting. There was a beautiful, literal deus ex machina scene where I think some of Saunders' own thoughts on humanity shone through ("You don't think you're good enough. But you are. You really are." Gah my heart).

I really appreciated a brief mention of sarcastic cows that insult bypassers and would like one for my front lawn.

But mostly I l
I've been wanting to read something by Saunders for a couple of years now, ever since interviewing him when he was planning a local appearance for an annual literary festival. Sadly, I had no idea who he was at the time and expect I made a bit of an ass of myself in the interview. It was during that phase of my life when I was steeped in SF/F literature and pretty much nothing else.

I found this browsing a local indy bookstore the other night and am glad I finally got around to picking up someth
Jul 24, 2007 Roddy rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: novella lovers/unique storytelling lovers
Shelves: literature
This is the story of the residents of Inner and Outer Horner, the former of which consist of seven people, only one of which can fit into Inner Horner at any given time, and the latter who are persuaded by a despot (who has a nasty habit of getting excited and having his brain fall off of its rack) to oppress the Inner Hornerites. It all comes when outer horner is inadvertantly invaded by inner hornerites after their pint sized country inexplicably shrinks and some of them fall across the offici ...more
Overly-obvious political parable featuring six inhabitants of an increasingly impoverished and minuscule nation. My favorite part was the Kellerites and their Enjoyment statistics. My least favorite aspect was meanie Phil's falling-out brain.
Jason Pettus
(Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography []. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted illegally.)

I had the pleasure of getting to talk with legendary author George Saunders for CCLaP's podcast last week, a rare treat given how in demand he is on this latest tour even among the major media; but that meant I had to do some serious cramming in the few weeks leading up to our talk, in that (I guiltily con
At first this book seemed too bizarre to love, but it's charm, energy, humor and lovely artwork in and out sustained it until the end, the ending though saved it and turned it around into a story I really enjoyed, though partially in retrospect. The witty metaphor of it all really came together for me toward the end, the almost whimsical sort of clevereness, this was really a pretty awesome tiny book. Nice morality tale or a satire lightly told in a pleasantly subtle, intelligent and entertainin ...more
A horribly failed experiment. The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil is thirteen dollars for eighty pages, partnered with abstract photos to try and illucidate what is ultimately a too-abstract text. For someone who adores being challenged I was forced to bite my tongue about "never being challenged enough" - the absolute inaccessibility of this text was mind-blowing.

The plot itself is water thin. A weak attempt at a dogmatic strike once more for a more socialist formation of democracy, arguing
To say that this book is strange is true but may miss the point. Saunders is working on a level different from the usual author. He appears to start with a concept which he then fills out with loose association and great imagination. His characters often sink to the lowest level of emotional development, and in so doing, uncover for us instincts that we have (hopefully) covered with layers of socialization. Yet, we recognize these emotions and the actions they stimulate as somehow "human" and "p ...more
On the surface, like the novellas of Jonathan Gould or Patrick Süskind’s The Story of Mr Sommer , this looks like it’s a kid’s book and, indeed, there will be plenty of kids who’ll enjoy it and pretty young kids at that. In an interview with Robert Birnbaum Saunders does, however, confirm that it was his intention to write an adult book and it was something he messed around with—his words—for some six years before he got done with it. On the surface it looks like something he might’ve tossed off ...more
ஜ்யொர்ஜ் ஸாண்டர்ஸ் தன் குறு நாவலான ‘The Brief and frightening reign of Phil’ இல் உருவாக்கியுள்ள நாடுகளான இன்னர் ஹார்னர் (Inner Horner) மற்றும் அவுட்டர் ஹார்னர் (Outer Horner) நாடுகளுக்கு உங்களை வரவேற்கிறேன். இந்த நாடுகளில் அப்படி என்ன விசேஷம்? பல உண்டு, உதாரணமாக அவுட்டர் ஹார்னர் நாட்டின் ஜனாதிபதிக்கு ஏழு வயிறுகள், ஐந்து மீசைகள், இன்னர் ஹார்னர் நாடோ ஒரே ஒரு ஆள் மட்டும் நிற்கக்கூடிய அளவிற்கு சிறிய நாடு. என்னய்யா இது என்று நீங்கள் திடுக்கிட்டால் , நீங்கள் ஸாண்டர்ஸின் உலகிற்குப் புதியவர் என்பது தெளி ...more
natalie chin
enjoyed reading this a lot
an examination of human kind/behaviour or something
taken out of context of 'this reality', placed in a new and unfamiliar context
the majority overrules the minority is what i thought when reading this book
how the outer hornerites destroy the inner hornerites
seemed like this tied in with my recent experiences in berlin, the museum we visited where the fallacies of the nazis/hitler built into a full-blown racial violation, and their opinions are validated and taken to be
George Saunders's novella makes some interesting points about human nature, even though the characters in it are not really human. In this allegory about international relations, politics, racism, and the terrible ways we human beings treat one another, we are introduced to a bizarre universe that even more bizarrely resembles our own.

In short, this novella is about sanctimony. The treatments of the Inner Hornerites by the Outer Hornerites is self serving and highly sanctimonious, which I descr
A fun, quick read, a political fable about relations between nations and people, like an Animal Farm for Bush-era America, in which pure evil exists side-by-side with pure hypocrisy and utterly ridiculous stupidity. Territorial sovereignty for the tiny nation of Inner Horner is at the core of the narrative; Inner Horner is so small only one of its citizens can live in it at a time. And so the nation of Outer Horner, which surrounds Inner Horner on all sides, allows the extra residents to live in ...more
Carl Brush
This is my first George Saunders, who is rumored to be one of the current funniest and sharpest. To judge by Phil, I’m not so impressed. It seems to me an obvious Swiftian/Orwellian knockoff that doesn’t belong on the same field with those classic satirists.
Saunders posits a kingdom called Horner—inner and outer. The inhabitants’ physical structure has little relationship to humans. They are constituted of earth, rivers, mechanical parts, and their composition differs from one to the other. When
After enjoying many of Saunders' essays in The Braindead Megaphone, I figured I would like his short stories even better, that being what he's better-known for. Since this book is, essentially, a single short story, I started with this one. I didn't like it. Saunders' language and the world it describes are weird and fascinating -- the characters live in an ambiguously described, maybe-not-quite-spatial world, with vague, alien features -- Phil, for instance, has the problem that "the bolt holdi ...more
I... I don't even know what to think of this book. There are many disparate elements and very very strange characters, all thrown together for a surrealist political satire. In many ways, it's the artistic successor to Flatland, in that it uses many of the same methods but it pushes many of the ideas much further, and not always to good effect.
I have to admire the author's sheer inventiveness, creating strange convoluted partially or mostly mechanical creatures, and trying to use them for politi
John Pappas
It is hard to pinpoint exactly what went wrong here. Though this novella sports many of the hallmarks of Saunders' work, here they seem empty, facile, or trite. The patent absurdity does not function, as it does in Civilwarland in Bad Decline or In Persuasion Nation, to heighten our awareness of our idiosyncratic social, cultural and political landscape, which, in turn helps define our common ethical landscape. Rather, it seems to be for its own sake, and, as such, weighs down an allegory that s ...more
Has George Saunders been worrying anyone else lately?

First, there was that angry screed against Borat in the New Yorker. And then, the supposed-to-be-funny-but-actually-just-depressing obit for Kurt Vonnegut in the NY Observer. And finally the Critical Mass piece []
about book reviewing.

I think he's really worried that the world is falling apart. And it's distressing him out too much to be funny. Which is sad.
Lauren Blundin
One of the most amazing things I have ever read. Seriously.
Bryce Johnson
I laughed on the train. Not too heavy-handed on the social commentary. Thanks Sarah T. for the recommendation.
Steve Petkus
Arggh. This low review is almost physically painful for me to do, as a fervent fan of Saunders. (Three of his four story collections rate a 5 of 5 possible, in my opinion, though I've only rated and reviewed the latest one here....) That said, I feel this book failed, mostly. Its premise is moderately interesting and Saundersesque, sure, but I feel the execution is tired and pointless. The voice that Saunders employs so well in other works--a kind of Upspeak, where statements are set as question ...more
This is a genuinely hilarious satire that manages to condense just about every theme around totalitarianism and imperialism into one short novel.

I thought 'oh it's obvious that this is about such and such an event' but no, I found myself reminded of many things - the treatment of Native Americans, the Nazis treatment of Jews and the Israelis' treatment of Palestinians; I was reminded of Stalin and Hitler and of the portly and dusty old regimes of Europe. I was also reminded, brilliantly, of the
This is the second George Saunders books I've read, and he is absolutely amazing. Saunders' work is a unique blend of sci-fi, poli-social commentary, and humor. Both of his books I've read (the other being CivilWarLand in Bad Decline) were really quick reads because the prose just flows so well and the humor makes it hard to stop reading even if one wanted to.

The Brief and Terrifying Reign of Phil is an interesting political commentary on issues like immigration policy, detention, and the cult o
Not a bad book, but didn't sell me on Saunders, whom I was shaky on until I read Pastoralia. I wouldn't call it the Animal Farm of the 21st century, but it is an interesting exploration of the way that by creating a straw man, using nationalism and xenophobia, and perhaps revanchism, an ambitious person can abuse power for their own gain. This novella comes packaged with Saunder's clever humor, and I chuckled quite a bit at the realization that Phil quite literally has a screw loose that causes ...more
Antonios Curation
Excellent parable about the underlying structure of the evolution of any imperialism.
Pretty funny!
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George Saunders was born December 2, 1958 and raised on the south side of Chicago. In 1981 he received a B.S. in Geophysical Engineering from Colorado School of Mines in Golden, Colorado. He worked at Radian International, an environmental engineering firm in Rochester, NY as a technical writer and geophysical engineer from 1989 to 1996. He has also worked in Sumatra on an oil exploration geophysi ...more
More about George Saunders...
Tenth of December CivilWarLand in Bad Decline Pastoralia In Persuasion Nation The Braindead Megaphone

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