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The Braindead Megaphone

3.98  ·  Rating details ·  4,255 ratings  ·  466 reviews
The breakout book from "the funniest writer in America"—not to mention an official Genius—a trade paperback original and his first nonfiction collection ever.

George Saunders's first foray into nonfiction is composed 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
Paperback, 257 pages
Published September 4th 2007 by Riverhead Books (first published 2007)
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3.98  · 
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 ·  4,255 ratings  ·  466 reviews

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Jan 09, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
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
Oct 14, 2007 rated it really liked it
[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
Apr 06, 2008 rated it it was ok
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
Leo Robertson
One of those mixed-bag books you get when you're a hot commodity :P "Can we pull together enough assorted stuff you wrote to make a spine thick enough to print your name on it?! Great!! $$$ chaching chaching"

The essays on writing were interesting. Great to get more insight into Saunders' style and his teaching method.

It seems to me that Saunders' style is but one way of approaching writing. Whenever someone seems so singularly brilliant, in any field, I forget they're just one person who doesn't
Sep 14, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: essays
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
Dec 30, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: funny
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
Mar 10, 2011 rated it did not like it
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
Oct 12, 2008 rated it it was ok
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
Mar 31, 2017 rated it really liked it
I can now say that I am a proud member of the PRKA--I always suspected as much, no matter how angry I get with what I imperfectly assess to be " the state of things", those things themselves somewhat of an abstraction.
The state of things is
almost always
what you make of things...
...yet death is ever
meteoric in its
relentless intensity,
its trajectory:
"look who's coming
to dinner" now you're
post-historic flambe:
"the fossil fuel
of tomorrow"
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
Sep 01, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2007
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
Jack Waters
Jan 21, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Feb 23, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: essays
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 Klein
Feb 08, 2008 rated it really liked it
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.
Apr 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: essays, nonfiction, humor
“The best stories proceed from a mysterious truth-seeking impulse that narrative has when revised extensively; they are complex and baffling and ambiguous; they tend to make us slower to act, rather than quicker. They make us more humble, cause us to empathize with people we don’t know, because they help us imagine these people, and when we imagine them—if the storytelling is good enough—we imagine them as being, essentially, like us. If the story is poor, or has an agenda, if it comes out of a
Dusty Myers
Dec 21, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
Mike Ingram
Nov 11, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
Jason Jordan
Mar 11, 2008 rated it liked it
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
Jul 21, 2008 rated it liked it
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

which was linked from something in The Paris Review that Elaine (whose workshops a
Maria Headley
Sep 02, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 06, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
Jul 19, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Sep 14, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
rachel  misfiticus
Nov 22, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
Dominique S
Jul 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
I read this for my Composition I class and really enjoyed it. George Saunders makes many great points in his collection of essays about people, perspectives, the media, and even literature itself. His most central claim is that there is a megaphone it society that is so loud and sensational, pouring out stories that are becoming further and further from the wholesome truth, that people have been utterly divided as a result. Fellow citizens are now deeply divided because they mostly depend on the ...more
Jan 21, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Sep 05, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: alreadyread
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
David Yoon
Sep 25, 2013 rated it liked it
While George Saunders can kill it with the short story, this collection from 2007 pulls together some of his non-fiction works. And no surprise here, Saunders occasionally nails it with pieces that make the whole worth reading. Other stories fade as quickly as they're read. Nothing terrible, just weak.

Naturally, what exactly is strong or weak differs for everyone. Not much of a polarizing review here I know. Saunders has a likeable, inclusionary style. He's not the delicious wonk that David Fos
Jun 13, 2009 rated it it was ok
Shelves: book-club
I enjoyed reading a few of the 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
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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
“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.” 1925 likes
“Humor is what happens when we're told the truth quicker and more directly than we're used to.” 436 likes
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