Book Review by Prof. David Werner
Age of Fools by William A. Cook is a hard book. It reads like a block of granite, unyielding, unsympathetic, difficult, harsh, cynical in the way that stone can be, yet strangely monumental in its cynicism, leaving the reader full of awe at the grandeur of its criticism. The tone of its author Cook reminds me of Robinson Jeffers, the gray bearded prophet standing in the storm, arms raised, howling against the foibles and stupidity of the human race, or, perhaps, the later cynical Twain, to whose “War Prayer” Cook refers. The particular part of the human race which is the focus of condemnation in Age of Fools is the “cabal” of the members of the George W. Bush administration, particularly the Neo-Cons, and particularly their prosecution of the war in Iraq and their single-minded support for the state of Israel. In short, Age of Fools is a 342 page condemnation in the harshest of terms, in the aftermath of 9/11, of Ariel Sharon’s and Ehud Olmert’s persecution of the Palestinians and in turn, a condemnation of “the incestuous relationship that exists between the U.S. and Israel,” and the destruction of the Palestinians that that relationship has produced.
Age of Fools is what one might term a ‘literary history’ blending polemics with poems and plays that Cook has also written in order to present what the author calls “a record of the first decade of the 21st century, as the newly appointed administration of George W. Bush entered the White House and inaugurated a decade of deceit and destruction that catapulted the United States into a totalitarian dictatorship that ravaged the world at will.” This is hardly an unbiased history. This is accdeptable given its intent but occasionally this rankles. Cook, for example, continually refers to the Bush administration as “evil,” and the use of that word, I think, stretches the bounds of criticism and seems fraught with difficulty. I objected to Bush’s use of “Evil Empire” to condemn those he opposed, and while I agree with Cook that the Bush administration was unconscionable in many of its actions, yet I find Cook’s use of the term just as objectionable.
The grand and awe-inspiring part of the book is its monumental condemnation of the Bush administration; its confusing and irritating part is its format. Based in the tradition of literary criticism of the foibles of society, beginning with an obscure (to most readers) 15th century work Narrenschiff (Ship of Fools) by Sebastian Brant, the majority of Age of Fools is apparently a series of articles that Cook has written for various internet publications over the course of some time. In his attempt to fuse these “polemics” into a whole, Cook has decided not to specifically identify these articles and has instead left the reader with a confusing sense of time, as all the articles (chapters) are in the present tense, whether that time is 2001, 2005, or 2008. Because these were at one time articles, they also tend to repeat a great deal of information, with the result that the reader feels he or she is being continually beaten with the same political stick.
Ultimately Cook asks and asks continually whether a “small religious group” whose “God dispensed real estate to their forbears centuries ago” has the “right to confiscate that land from people who have lived on it and worked it for over two thousand years.” Cook claims, rightly, that this is at the core of the continuing crisis in the Middle East and that until the world can figure out how to resolve it, it is condemned to failure. The magnificence of Age of Fools is its ability to elucidate this problem; the tragedy of the book is that those who most need enlightenment will never read it.
David R. Werner
Associate Professor of English Emeritus
Los Osos, California. 2016