The Braindead Megaphone
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The Braindead Megaphone

3.92 of 5 stars 3.92  ·  rating details  ·  2,690 ratings  ·  364 reviews
The breakout book from "the funniest writer in America"--not to mention an official "Genius"--his first nonfiction collection ever.
George Saunders's first foray into nonfiction is comprised of essays on literature, travel, and politics. At the core of this unique collection are Saunders's travel essays based on his trips to seek out the mysteries of the "Buddha Boy" of N...more
ebook, 272 pages
Published September 1st 2007 by Riverhead Books
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Katie
[Truth be told, I’d like to give the book 4.65 stars]... but oh my Jesus, George has done it again! (And by 'done it' I mean 'been funny' not 'compiled his previously published non-fiction into one book' cause then 'again' would have to read 'for the first time,’ and that's not what I wanted to say. No matter. Still so funny, is my point.) If read in one go the humor might, on occasion, seem overbearing (essays like ‘Ask the Optimist!’ or ‘Woof,’ I thought, were somewhat stale or, dare I say it,...more
David
Jan 13, 2008 David rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to David by: Katie
There is a nice confluence between this book and DFW's Consider the Lobster-- in particular the last of Wallace's essays, which is on American talk radio, segues seamlessly into the Saunders' first essay, "The Braindead Megaphone", which is as good an essay on the dumbing influence of mainstream media as I've ever read. Oh, and it's fucking hilarious, which when you think about it, why shouldn't it be?

So I had never read GS before, neither his fiction nor non-fiction, and DFW is a hard act to fo...more
David
Based on this collection, George Saunders joins David Foster Wallace on the bench of terrifically smart writers I admire tremendously and who seem like wonderful, funny, mensch-like people.... this sentence needs a but, so here it is:

BUT, whose very cleverness can sometimes sabotage their writing. Ultimately, an excess of cleverness marred 'In Persuasion Nation' for me, and the same is true of this collection.

There are some terrific pieces - the title essay, in particular, is a tour de force. I...more
Jen
Apr 06, 2008 Jen rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: big fans of Saunders willing to be slightly annoyed
This book is like a summary of how I feel about George Saunders: sometimes hilarious, insightful, moving, surprising, and sometimes just gimmicky and self-indulgent and annoying. A few of the essays (the Dubai one, the dog one) are pretty great. A lot of them are okay. A few are awful, especially the ones that are supposed to be about some idea or issue but are really just all about how clever the author is. Overall, a disappointment, but worth reading if you're willing to skip around. I still l...more
Lena
This collection of essays from George Saunders covers a wide range of territory, discussing everything from the author’s experiences visiting the Buddha Boy of Nepal to an analysis of Twain’s Huckleberry Finn. Saunders sharp eye and even sharper wit come across in most all of these essays, though I think his talent is best displayed in the longer travel pieces. His humor is balanced with a good deal of heartfelt emotion when he writes about watching Arab children see snow for the first time in t...more
Malbadeen
I'd be giving this book 3 stars if not for an essay on forming sentences. In "Thank you, Esther Forbes" Saunders recalls his emerging love for sentences formed with deliberation and the effects of honest brevity.
Wow! and wow! because if I ever find a guy that can recall the moment he fell in love with the structure of a sentence, I 'll do anything and everything within my means to make him love me. and if he doesn't love me, I'll just kidnap him and tie him to a chair and make him read aloud to...more
Jason Pettus
(Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography [cclapcenter.com]. 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...more
Melanie
When I think "book of essays," what comes to mind is a series of ruminations on how-I-felt-when-I-was-here and what-I-think-about-all-of-this. With his first collection of essays, George Saunders manages to totally screw up my mental model by pairing these personal-political essays with old-fashioned, honest-to-God satire.

If you've read any of his short stories, it probably won't surprise you to find that Saunders writes satirical pieces in the best possible way--angrily, and with hope, and wit...more
rachel  misfiticus
A few essays stand out:

The New Mecca, written by Saunders whilst in Dubai, is a realistic (and funny) depiction of an American in a manufactured paradise in the UAE.

In another journey to a 'far away land', Saunders writes Buddha Boy. His account of observing Ram Bahadur Bamjon, and the various encounters of those who come to be blessed by Bamjon's presence, had me laughing out loud on the train at 7:30 in the morning, before I had coffee. That must be worth at least a star in itself.


The self de...more
Jessica
I really enjoyed this book of recent essays by George Saunders, though some work much better than others. Although Saunders is constantly described as "the MacArthur genius-grant winning satirist," his satire doesn't actually do much for me. His commentary, however, on subjects ranging from the intellectual decline of modern discourse to the insane manicured weirdness of Dubai to what is sublime and what is troubling about Huckleberry Finn is insightful, funny, and moving.
Lee
The first few essays are awesomely funny, then it fell off a bit for me, though I'd read some of them already in magazines etc. Totally worth it, but maybe best not to read it all at one time.
Ron
The title essay that leads off the book shows such promise that one begins to feel they are about to be treated to the work of a rare genius along the lines of a David Foster Wallace. Sadly, the very next essay is so utterly lacking in insight or perception that we are quickly disabused of that notion. Saunders admits to having been an Ayn Rand Republican as a young man and an engineering grad who came to reading very late in life. It isn't any wonder, then, that the writing is of such poor cali...more
Jason Jordan
Like several compendiums, many of these stories have appeared elsewhere, so if déjà vu hits while reading, it’s probably not a coincidence. Often steeped in politics, Saunders’s opening – “The Braindead Megaphone” – is essentially a piece railing against the Bush administration, Fox News, and other conservative outfits, while lengthy 34-page follower “The New Mecca” tells of the rise of Dubai in a Brautigan-esque manner by incorporating chapter headings, which “A Brief Study of the British,” “Th...more
Allee
A pleasant series of essays on a range of topics. After the first essay, on the dumbness of our mass media (i.e. the braindead megaphone), I was worried it would just be a predictable book of liberal bitching and "yeah, duh. Already knew that." I'm bored by books that I agree with totally. But delightfully it proved me wrong. Saunders explores different topics with a depth of compassion and nuance that I have a lot to learn about, as well as a refreshing self-awareness of his privilege in the wo...more
Mike Ingram
The four stars here are for the handful of meatier essays in the book, like Saunders' trip to Dubai, an essay on Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five, his adventures with the Minutemen (the border patrol people, not the band), and his observations of a boy in Nepal who's been meditating without food or water or any discernible movement for several months.

The book also features a number of short humor pieces that tend to be more over-the-top and, while sometimes chuckle-worthy, tend also to be kind of...more
Wesley
This is, hands down, the worst book of essays that I have ever read. The discussion was so perfunctory and the style such poorly adapted Vonnegut that I felt insulted that I was even expected to finish it (which I did, assuming that, surely, it had to get better).

What's doubly frustrating is that I dove into this one with high hopes. I mean, c'mon, Saunders is often mentioned in the same breath as David Foster Wallace (who I'd comfortably assert is one of the best essayists of his generation). A...more
Shannon
I thought this collection was going to kick so much ass, because the first story was so witty and in-your-face. The rest, however... not so great.

The author, ironically, didn't seem to acknowledge his privilege and Western bias that he seemed to be so aware of, initially. Basically, he was saying, the "braindead megaphone" means that whoever has the loudest voice, is most interesting/able to get people to listen to them, gets heard the most. A fairly simple sentiment; but the implications of wh...more
Anittah
I have no memory of having added this to my 'want to read' shelf during apparently the summer of 2008 (What was happening that summer? What compelled me to add it? I was living on the Lower East Side in a 1 BR that, with the Lehman bankruptcy, I would soon no longer be able to afford. Anyway. Maybe one of my GR friends gave it five stars that summer?).

So be it. Just read this

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/06/mag...;

which was linked from something in The Paris Review that Elaine (whose workshops...more
Maria Headley
George Saunders = American Genius. Funny, twisted, huge heart. I love the article about Dubai in this book, and also the one about the US/Mexican border. Saunders goes at journalistic topics with a unique voice: half-idiot (the kind of idiot most of us bear inside ourselves and never admit to) and half-pure insight. The border article is full of laughs as Saunders hangs out with a militia-ish patriot group patrolling a small section of border in the middle of the night, with very mediocre result...more
Amy
Feb 24, 2008 Amy rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people reluctant to kill for an abstraction
Saunders is a brilliant, humane essayist. He loves language and clarity and ideas, but he also loves people -- even Republicans and Minutemen -- and he will make you love them as well. Well, maybe not "love." Maybe "understand" or "empathize with," but in a way you (or at least, I) never thought possible. It's easy to see Vonnegut's inspiration in Saunders' words.

A couple of the essays in this book are disposable, and "A Brief Study of the British" beats its central joke (Americans don't know m...more
Dusty Myers
I want to be careful with this review and revise it a lot, mostly because of the metaphor Saunders titles his book of essays after: a general loudness and lack of sophistication in the parlance these days. And how it's a cause for some complex kind of ruin:

"Megaphone Guy* [who stands at a party and dominates the conversation merely through volume] is a storyteller, but his stories are not so good. Or rather, his stories are limited. His stories have not had time to gestate—they go out too fast a...more
Teresa
This is the 2nd author I've learned about via David Sedaris. Many thought-provoking essays, with a favorite being the last chapter: "Manifesto A press relase from PRKA" (People Reluctant to Kill for an Abstraction).

A favorite part: "A word about our membership. Since the world began, we have gone about our work quietly, resisting the urge to generalize, insisting upon valuing the individual over the group, the actual over the conceptual, the inherent sweetness of a peaceful moment over the theo...more
Jack Waters
4.5 stars

Saunders is definitely an acquired taste, but I say that with every good intention. Allow his playfulness to wash over your disbelief and he'll enamor you with his words.

His essay on a Donald Barthelme short-story = gold & compels me further down the Short Story Master baton-passing rabbit hole. To me Barthelme is still king of the castle, but have you seen what Saunders has done to the moat?

Buddha Boy is very interesting topic, and the essay presents as good of a case at documentin...more
Aj
Recommended by David Sedaris during his reading at GW University.

I truly enjoyed Saunders' point of view on most topics and his dry wit. He is not as funny as Sedaris, but then his essays are more politically oriented than Sedaris, who typically writes about his personal experiences. I loved the title essay, Braindead Megaphone, and the essays on Dubai and the Minutemen. At times his sentence structure is hard to follow, causing me to slow down and enjoy his prose. I think as a result, I was abl...more
Michael
This is a collection of George Saunder's non-fiction and humor pieces. The Braindead Megaphone is an essay on our political discourse and is easily the weakest one of the bunch. Political blogs are handling that issue better with more journalist chops, but his metaphors are funny.

The other essays are travel essays, and the Dubai essay is hilarious. Saunders is obsessed with morality, especially globally, but he's also intensively self-aware and reflective, so he calls bullshit on himself before...more
Alison
I enjoyed reading a few of the essays...in particular Buddha Boy, the one on Dubai, and the one about immigrants in the U.S. I did like his opening essay that became the title of the book but felt he became the "megaphone man" during the rest of his essays blabbing nonsensically in a way that made me feel like reading his stuff was engaging in a distraction versus nourishing myself in someway. Overall I did not find his writing style to be that funny and felt that the book was way too hyped than...more
Esther
Five stars for: Insightful, meditative, self-deprecating pieces on writers/writing, traveling and culture clash.
Three stars for: Provocative but one-sided essays on the state of American culture and media. All of that vitriol toward the idiot cowboy president seems dated already. Sort of sweet, really. Those were the days before hockey moms and tea partiers.
Zero stars for : "Humor" pieces. They were painful and read like a high school student churned out a few clever ideas for the school literar...more
Jennifer
Not every essay in this book really grabbed me, but I loved a few of them, especially the one about Dubai. This is the first book I've read by George Saunders and I'm definitely going to check out his fiction.

Totally irrelevant but interesting to me: I was reading this book in a crowded elevator on the way to work and this little boy who looked all of about five pointed to the cover and said, "Daddy, I think you have that book!" And the dad was like, "Uh, yeah...it's very funny." What an observa...more
Aaron
review of the braindead megaphone

Not as good as Saunders' excellent short story collection "Tenth of December." Also not as consistently worthwhile as the essays in David Foster Wallace's collections "Consider the Lobster" and "Both Flesh and Not" (both excellent; CtL maybe a hair better, overall, than BFaN). HOWEVER,

1. I haven't read all the essays in here. I found there were some duds, such as:

a. "Ask the Optimist" (Cheesy not funny)
b. "A Brief Study of the British" (Honestly I didn't give thi...more
Dugan Maynard
A great collection of short stories/essays. The first one (which the book is named after) isn't my favourite, but it's still very good. There's a wonderful essay about a book tour he did in Europe with Margaret Atwood where he narrates the entire experience (ironically) like the worst kind of American tourist. Another essay is written in abstruse academic-speak and details a series of imagined sociological studies of a group of people reluctant to kill for an abstraction, which is wonderfully to...more
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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
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“Don't be afraid to be confused. Try to remain permanently confused. Anything is possible. Stay open, forever, so open it hurts, and then open up some more, until the day you die, world without end, amen.” 1713 likes
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