Matt Taibbi, an excellent writer who bumbled into Hunter S. Thompson's mantle at Rolling Stone, has produced two books of essays, and they're both uninspiring. It turns out that his short work, once collected and cleansed of the noxious fumes of current events, doesn't hold up well in book form. It's hard to overstate the pleasant surprise, then, of The Great Derangement: This is a long-form portrait of America as it is now, it's true, but it also feels like Taibbi has finally written a real book.
Derangement is composed of three sections. Taibbi initially wanted to explore a year in the life of the U.S. Congress, without all the Schoolhouse Rock fappery, and the work that he does in that direction is certainly worthwhile. He reveals some lawmakers for the vampiric, late-night-deal-making scum they really are. But his Rolling Stone assignments keep pulling him away from D.C. He abandons the Congressional project midway through the book for an in-depth study of 9/11 Truth groups, and the horrible appeal and enchanting chaos that these groups of angry conspiracy theorists engender.
As he explores the flip side of the modern political scene, Taibbi also embeds himself in a hardcore evangelical church; he charts his growth as a member of the congregation, from his attempts to proselytize at a local mall all the way to a terrible, gorgeous scene where he's required to vomit demons into a paper bag. Over the course of Derangement, one develops the fear that Taibbi isn't long for the world of politics—some of the best commentators on political slime seem to feed off the awfulness of it all, while Taibbi reacts to evil with a real, obvious disgust, as though he's been poisoned. But if he can produce another few books like this, we'll all be left wondering who the next Matt Taibbi will turn out to be.