It says a lot about America, or me, that when I picked up 'The Last Honest Place in America', for an instant, I could not for the life of me figure ouIt says a lot about America, or me, that when I picked up 'The Last Honest Place in America', for an instant, I could not for the life of me figure out what the book could be about, because I could not imagine an honest place left, anywhere in the world, let alone America. Then I read the subtitle: Paradise and Perdition in the New Las Vegas, and I got it. Marc Cooper does great things with titles. (For contrast, his other book is called 'Pinochet and Me'.) Comparisons are obviously going to be drawn to Hunter S. Thompson. That's natural. Both writers essentially love and loathe the same things about the city I like to call The Tacky Asshole of America. (A title held by Tallahassee, Florida, prior to my first visit to Las Vegas. Seriously, Tallahassee? With that much exhausting heat and steel-headed incompetence, it's no wonder they can't count votes.) So as much as I hate this type of comparison, I'll get it out of the way now: 'The Last Honest Place in America' is not nearly as funny as 'Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas', and anybody hoping for that is going to be disappointed. But it is funny as hell in places, it probably has a little more statistical information than 'Fear & Loathing', and the CIA probably won't put you on a hit-list for reading it. Its structure - each chapter more or less a mini-biography of a city player- also makes it unique from Thompson's work. Cooper manages to find a cynical truth in the disgusting hypocrisy of the City That Wants Your Last Cent. This is the city that Howard Hughes built. It's the city that will, as Cooper points out, have red, white and blue lights spell out "God Bless the USA" without giving one goddamn about the USA, God or any blessings besides their gross. Yet its transparency almost makes it cynically honest. The people visiting it are every bit as dishonest and conflicted as the city itself. According to figures cited in the book, 17% of tourists entering Vegas say they are coming to gamble, while almost 40% say they are only coming to see the sights. (Casinos qualify as "sights", yes.) The same study found that the average tourist will visit at least eight different casinos while in Vegas, and that despite what they may tell family and friends, 87% of visitors to Las Vegas spent four hours a day, on average, gambling. It isn't that 82% of tourists who visit Vegas are liars. It's that 17% of people who visit Vegas don't understand irony. The city presumes you're in on the gag when you make the decision to go there. Cooper's book is undercut with references to what was going on in the world while he was there, and how removed from it all Vegas really seemed to be. The book was written in 2003, as we started the war in Iraq. Las Vegas doesn't have a lot of patience for "world events" and "news". Cooper himself sees the allure of it, too. As he says, aside from a few columns, there wasn't much he could do about Iraq even if he wasn't playing poker. Most striking about 'The Last Honest Place in America', though, and what makes it unique from Thompson's rant on the city, is that Cooper's book is written in the age of the "New Las Vegas". The Las Vegas that exists today, for all its filth, is the Disney Version. It's where you'll find a casino who devotes the profits from three - yes, three whole - slot machines toward "saving the rain forests". Cooper interviews city officials and casino representatives who point out that their biggest untapped market is people who won't go anywhere "without their kids". It's a story filled with politics, strippers, alcohol, plasticity and money, and it's fascinating. As I write this, Mitt Romney and Hillary Clinton have handily won the Nevada caucuses. Yip.
"You don't take a sausage roll to a banquet." The previous sentence was spoken by Sir Winston Churchill, when asked why he hadn't brought his wife wit"You don't take a sausage roll to a banquet." The previous sentence was spoken by Sir Winston Churchill, when asked why he hadn't brought his wife with him on a trip to Paris. The 776 Nastiest Things Ever Said is filled with gems like this. For anyone looking for more vindictive, spiteful curmudgeons to admire and mimic, this is the ultimate reference book. It ranges in reference points from the shallowly brutal ("A bag of tattooed bones in a sequined slingshot." - fashion critic Mr. Blackwell, describing Cher) to handy advice on what to say to former lovers when you run into them years later ("I thought I told you to wait in the car." - Tallulah Bankhead). There are reminders of better times, like when presidents were honest ("I didn't fire MacArthur because he was a dumb son-of-a-bitch, although he was, but that's not against the law for generals. If it was, half to three-quarters of them would be in jail." - President Harry S. Truman). And even the artists behind some of the brilliantly cold verbal assaults in this book are targets of other wits themselves. "Winston Churchill would go up to his Creator and say he would very much like to meet his son, about whom he has heard a great deal." David Lloyd George was probably more acquainted with Sir Winston's ego than even Winston's wife. A wonderful collection.