O'rourke, P.J. 1947–
O'rourke, P.J. 1947–
(Patrick Jake O'Rourke)
PERSONAL: Born November 14, 1947, in Toledo, OH; son of Clifford Bronson (an auto salesman) and Delphine (a school administrator) O'Rourke; married Amy Lumet, 1990; divorced, 1993; married Tina Mallon, 1995; children: two. Education: Miami University, Oxford, OH, B.A., 1969; Johns Hopkins University, M.A., 1970. Politics: Republican. Religion: Methodist. Hobbies and other interests: Art, architecture, history.
ADDRESSES: Home—Washington, DC, and Peterborough, NH. Office—c/o Atlantic Monthly, 77 N. Washington, Boston, MA 02114.
CAREER: Writer and editor with underground newspapers, including Harry, Baltimore, MD, and New York, NY, 1968–71; New York Herald, New York, NY, feature editor, 1971–72; freelance writer, 1972–73; National Lampoon, New York, NY, executive editor and managing editor, 1973–77, editor-in-chief, 1978–81; Rolling Stone, New York, NY, head of international affairs desk, 1981–2001; Atlantic Monthly, Boston, MA, correspondent, 2001–. H.L. Mencken research fellow, Cato Institute.
AWARDS, HONORS: Woodrow Wilson fellow, 1969–70; Merit Award, Art Directors Club, 1973; Gold Award, 1975; Merit Award, Society of Publication Designers, 1976; received other awards for visual excellence for National Lampoon.
(Editor, with Douglas C. Kenney, and contributor) The 1964 High School Yearbook Parody, National Lampoon (Boston, MA), 1974.
Our Friend the Vowel (poetry), Stone House (New York, NY), 1975.
(Editor and contributor) Sunday Newspaper Parody, National Lampoon (Boston, MA), 1978, reprinted, Rugged Land (New York, NY), 2004.
(With Rodney Dangerfield, Michael Endler, and David Blain) Easy Money (screenplay), Orion Pictures, 1983.
Modern Manners: An Etiquette Book for Rude People, Dell (New York, NY), 1983, revised edition, Atlantic Monthly Press (New York, NY), 1989.
Republican Party Reptile: Essays and Outrages, Atlantic Monthly Press (New York, NY), 1987.
The Bachelor's Home Companion: A Practical Guide to Keeping House like a Pig, Pocket Books (New York, NY), 1987, revised edition, Atlantic Monthly Press (New York, NY), 1993.
Holidays in Hell, Atlantic Monthly Press (New York, NY), 1988.
Parliament of Whores: A Lone Humorist Attempts to Explain the Entire U.S. Government, Atlantic Monthly Press (New York, NY), 1991.
Give War a Chance: Eyewitness Accounts of Mankind's Struggle against Tyranny, Injustice, and Alcohol-free Beer, Atlantic Monthly Press (New York, NY), 1992.
Everybody Had His Own Gringo: The CIA and the Contras, Brassey's (Washington, DC), 1992.
All the Trouble in the World: The Lighter Side of Overpopulation, Famine, Ecological Disaster, Ethnic Hatred, Plague, and Poverty, Grove/Atlantic Monthly Press (New York, NY), 1994, published as All the Trouble in the World: The Lighter Side of Famine, Pestilence, Destruction, and Death, Picador (London, England), 1994.
Age and Guile Beat Youth, Innocence, and a Bad Haircut: Twenty-five Years of P.J. O'Rourke, Atlantic Monthly Press (New York, NY), 1995.
(Editor, with Peter Knobler and Greg Mitchell) Very Seventies: A Cultural History of the 1970s, from the Pages of Crawdaddy, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1995.
The "American Spectator" Enemies List: A Vigilant Journalist's Plea for a Renewed Red Scare, Atlantic Monthly Press (New York, NY), 1996.
Eat the Rich: A Treatise on Economics, Atlantic Monthly Press (New York, NY), 1998.
The CEO of the Sofa, Atlantic Monthly Press (New York, NY), 2001.
Peace Kills: America's Fun New Imperialism, Atlantic Monthly Press (New York, NY), 2004.
Also author of Nancy Adler Poems, 1970. Contributor of articles to Harper's, Playboy, Vanity Fair, American Spectator, House and Garden, Wall Street Journal, Esquire, Car and Driver, Forbes, Regulator, Weekly Standard, and Automobile. Former member of editorial board, American Spectator.
SIDELIGHTS: Humorist P.J. O'Rourke follows in the tradition of the New Journalism practiced by Tom Wolfe and Hunter S. Thompson, a journalism in which objectivity gives way to an unabashed opinionizing and the story is colored by the emotions and beliefs of the writer himself. Whether writing of the world's trouble spots or of life in the United States, O'Rourke serves up a humorous mixture of rock-and-roll wildness and libertarian conservativism that makes even his political opponents laugh out loud. Michael Riley of Time found O'Rourke to be "an acerbic master of gonzo journalism and one of America's most hilarious and provocative writers." One-time editor-in-chief of the satirical National Lampoon magazine, O'Rourke served as head of the international affairs desk at Rolling Stone from 1986 to 2001 and as a member of the editorial board for the American Spectator in the 1990s. His books Parliament of Whores: A Lone Humorist Attempts to Explain the Entire U.S. Government and Give War a Chance: Eyewitness Accounts of Mankind's Struggle against Tyranny, Injustice and Alcohol-free Beer have taken him to the top of U.S. bestseller lists.
In the early 1970s, O'Rourke landed at the National Lampoon, where he rose through the ranks to become editor-in-chief. While with Lampoon O'Rourke turned out humorous articles and two books, The 1964 High School Yearbook Parody, a bestselling parody he edited with Douglas C. Kenney, and Sunday Newspaper Parody, a similar spoof of the Sunday papers.
Following up on the success of his bestselling parodies for National Lampoon, O'Rourke published two tongue-in-cheek guidebooks, Modern Manners: An Etiquette Book for Rude People and The Bachelor's Home Companion: A Practical Guide to Keeping House like a Pig, after he left the magazine in 1981. The books serve as parodies of stuffy guides to "proper behavior" while deploring the lack of civilized standards in modern society. Modern Manners, Kerry Luft wrote in the Chicago Tribune, is "a book of outrageous etiquette that's likely to leave you howling…. O'Rourke's writing has a cutting edge behind it, which makes a reader's laughter just a bit thought-provoking, and just a bit rueful." Under the surface of O'Rourke's humor, too, is a strong sense of outrage. Speaking of correct conduct in Modern Manners, O'Rourke commented: "It may be years before anyone knows if what you are doing is right. But if what you are doing is nice, it will be immediately evident…. When Miss Kopechne seemed to be in trouble, Senator Kennedy swam all the way to Edgartown rather than run up a stranger's phone bill calling for help."
With Republican Party Reptile: Essays and Outrages, a gathering of twenty-one magazine essays and articles, O'Rourke presents his persona of a hip conservative libertarian. Arguing that an outrageous sensibility naturally leads to support for individualism and a limited government, O'Rourke claims that many younger people are therefore "Republican Party Reptiles." "We look like Republicans, and think like conservatives," O'Rourke explains, "but we drive a lot faster and keep vibrators and baby oil and a video camera behind the stack of sweaters on the bedroom closet shelf." As William French summarized in the Toronto Globe and Mail, those who are Republican Party Reptiles "oppose government spending, seat-belt laws, the United Nations, aerobics and taxation without loopholes, among other things. They favor guns, drugs, free love, a sound dollar, Star Wars and the right to drive a red Ferrari at 130 miles per hour."
Called "sometimes a bit too rude" by Susan Avallone of the Library Journal, Republican Party Reptile ranges over a wide variety of topics, including peacenik tourists in Soviet Russia, cocaine smuggling in the Caribbean, and driving fast on drugs without spilling your drink. The usual flamboyant style is evident here. Describing former Philippines president Ferdinand Marcos, O'Rourke claims he was "a vicious lying dirtball who ought to have been dragged through the streets of Manila with his ears nailed to a truck bumper." Expressing a warm fondness for President Roosevelt, O'Rourke clarifies: "Not the one in the wheelchair, the good one who killed bears." Edward H. Crane, speaking of Republican Party Reptile in the American Spectator, called O'Rourke "a closet libertarian who shares not only Mencken's wit, but his hatred of the state as well." "Beneath a flippant surface and a frequently vulgar brand of humor," Bob Mack wrote in the National Review, "O'Rourke is remarkably concerned with mores and morals."
Yet not all critics have looked on O'Rourke's writing with favor. As Jack A. Nelson pointed out in the Dictionary of Literary Biography, O'Rourke has been accused of pandering "to changing public prejudices." For example, in the 1980s, "with America cringing from the Iran hostage crisis and other worldwide humiliations, his ethnocentrism—often expressed in scatological terms—hit a familiar spark for a wide audience. Neither foreign nor domestic ethnic groups have escaped his right-wing wrath." Nelson quoted another critic as saying that O'Rourke's "quips … often are hysterically funny, but 'they leave a tacky taste in the mouth.'" Nelson further pointed out that "foreign victims of his satire have been the easiest for him; favorite domestic targets are women, blacks, gays, and assorted racial minorities."
After his appointment in 1986 as head of the international affairs desk at Rolling Stone magazine, O'Rourke globe-trotted to Korea, Lebanon, the Philippines, South Africa, Nicaragua, and the Soviet Union. Holidays in Hell gathers together his reports from these trouble spots. "Armed with cynicism and the obligatory apparel," as Jonathan Yardley put it in the Washington Post Book World, O'Rourke provides acidic sketches of tyranny, war, and corruption around the world. He plays, Henry Jaworski explained in the Toronto Globe and Mail, "the cynical innocent abroad." Throughout, O'Rourke keeps in mind that "so-called Western civilization … is better than anything else available. Western civilization not only provides a bit of life, a pinch of liberty and the occasional pursuit of a happiness, it's also the only thing that's ever tried to." Although the book is humorous, Mark Cunningham admitted in the National Review, when O'Rourke departs from his humorous voice, his prose achieves a "tremendous power."
The moral outrage O'Rourke expressed in prior books is a major ingredient in Parliament of Whores, his bestselling attack on modern U.S. politics. O'Rourke begins with a libertarian conservative's statement of purpose: "The government is huge, stupid, greedy, and makes nosy, officious, and dangerous intrusions into the smallest corners of life." He explains that government does not understand its proper relationship to its citizens: "To shut up and get out of our faces." He then proceeds to such chapters as "The Three Branches of Government: Money, Television and Bullshit" and "Our Government: What the F—Do They Do All Day and Why Does It Cost So Goddamned Much Money?" Along the way, O'Rourke mixes insightful political jabs with the humor. In the chapter "Why God Is a Republican and Santa Claus Is a Democrat," he explains that God is "a stern fellow, patriarchal rather than paternal and a great believer in rules and regulations. He holds men strictly accountable for their actions." In contrast, Santa Claus "may know who's been naughty and who's been nice, but he never does anything about it. He gives everyone everything they want…. Santa Claus is preferable to God in every way but one: There is no such thing as Santa Claus."
"Parliament of Whores," Allen Randolph wrote in the National Review, "is being touted as a belly-aching good time…. But don't expect brain candy. The author has asked too many questions and seen too much of the world to be shrugged off as a mere entertainer. The fizzing cynicism is as much a reflection of experience as a literary style." O'Rourke concludes the book by observing: "The whole idea of our government is: if enough people get together and act in concert, they can take something and not pay for it…. Every government is a parliament of whores. The trouble is, in a democracy, the whores are us." Daniel Wattenberg in the American Spectator found that O'Rourke makes a single point time and again throughout the book: "Limited government depends on self-government. We have only ourselves to blame if government is too big. We demand way too much from our leaders and do way too little for ourselves." Calling O'Rourke "a bit of a smart-assed jerk," David Olive of the Toronto Globe and Mail nonetheless concluded that "he has some valid points to make, and never fails to entertain." Signe Wilkinson in the New York Times Book Review claims that "for anyone majoring in or teaching political science, P.J. O'Rourke's latest should be required reading."
In Give War a Chance: Eyewitness Accounts of Mankind's Struggle against Tyranny, Injustice, and Alcohol-free Beer O'Rourke collects articles on a variety of topics, including his "Notes toward a Blacklist for the 1990s," a satirical call for a new McCarthyism aimed at a wide range of irritating liberal types, and his coverage of the Persian Gulf War. Chris Goodrich in Publishers Weekly noted that O'Rourke uses his humor to "write about subjects that border on the unspeakable." "When I'm doing these stories where people are getting hurt," O'Rourke explains, "it's important to have comic relief, and a fool is very useful for that. And I use myself as that fool—not that I'm not a fool, it's certainly an accurate persona in that respect—by making myself seem a little more ignorant of the situation than I actually am." "Rare is the writer who can make his readers laugh out loud in the privacy of their living rooms, much less in the middle of a crowded railroad car," Terry Teachout noted in the New York Times Book Review. "P.J. O'Rourke is one of those fortunate souls. I read Give War a Chance … on a train from New York to Baltimore, and it made me laugh so hard that my fellow passengers started pointing and whispering…. It's the gift of a Kingsley Amis or an H.L. Mencken, and you either have it or you don't."
All the Trouble in the World: The Lighter Side of Overpopulation, Famine, Ecological Disaster, Ethnic Hatred, Plague, and Poverty, which O'Rourke published in 1994, is a collection of essays wherein the author "assumes the role of libertarian praise singer, extolling the virtues of free markets and heaping scorn on the evils of clumsy, intrusive Big Government," according to Time writer Eugene Linden. Regardless of what liberal-minded environmentalists might argue, O'Rourke finds that, on the whole, the population of planet Earth has "never been better off and that doomsayers who exaggerate the threat of ecological collapse are motivated by self-interest and a socialist agenda," according to the critic. From Bangladesh's absurdist jute-growing policies to groups of U.S. eco-tourists garbed in the latest astral-colored, synthetic-fibered sportswear, these writings show their author, "for all his mannered jadedness, … appalled by the way corrupt regimes and inane ideologies manage to wreak human destruction," in the words of Douglas Kennedy in the New Statesman and Society.
O'Rourke collected some of his most popular writings in 1995's Age and Guile Beat Youth, Innocence, and a Bad Haircut: Twenty-five Years of P.J. O'Rourke. Here he includes pieces from magazines as diverse as Car and Driver and National Lampoon, with political overtones spanning the gamut from leftist revolutionary to worldly, conservative pundit. Several poems, six short stories, a speech, and other commentary are included among the forty-five works collected. The American Spectator's Enemies List: A Vigilant Journalist's Plea for a Renewed Red Scare targets the source of conservative Republican ire. Included in the line of the satirist's fire are such politically correct provocateurs as Angela Davis and Abbie Hoffman, institutions such as Duke University's English Department and the American Library Association, such celebrities as actress Meryl Streep and actor/musician Sting, and fads ranging from safe sex to sushi bars. Based on American Spectator readers' annual responses to a 1989 column by O'Rourke calling for a "New McCarthyism" in the United States, Enemies List also contains the essays "Why I Am a Conservative in the First Place" and "100 Reasons Why Jimmy Carter Was a Better President than Bill Clinton."
O'Rourke tackled no less a subject than the distribution of global wealth in 1998's Eat the Rich: A Treatise on Economics. This book seeks to answer the author's question, "Why do some places prosper and thrive while others just suck?" The answer, he suggests, has nothing to do with intelligence. "No part of the earth … is dumber than Beverly Hills," he writes, "and the residents are wading in gravy. In Russia, meanwhile, where chess is a spectator sport, they're boiling stones for soup." To find out more, O'Rourke again packed his bags, this time headed for Cuba, Albania, Tanzania, Hong Kong and Russia, among other destinations. By the end of the book, the author "has a pretty good idea why some countries prosper and why others just suck," wrote Max Schulz of Reason. "And it boils down to some simple things: the rule of law, private property, limited government, sound money, personal freedom." Eat the Rich was warmly received by Schulz and also by ETC critic Martin Levinson, who wrote that O'Rourke "has a wonderful way with words and he so enlivens the 'dismal science' that you may want to actually have a look at some serious economic texts." Less impressed was Deirdre McMurdy, who wrote in Maclean's that reading Eat the Rich was like "gorging on a bag of potato chips: they taste great at the time, but they leave you feeling still hungry, slightly guilty and with a peculiar taste in your mouth." She mainly objected to O'Rourke's using his travels as an "[excuse] for brittle one-liners at the expense of the locals."
In The CEO of the Sofa, a collection of previously published pieces, O'Rourke takes aim at cell phones, fatherhood, the World Wide Web, India, and the United Nations. "I don't think there's a subject that he can't make interesting and amusing to us in turn," wrote Imre Salusinszky of the Australian journal Quadrant. As always, O'Rourke espouses his conservative political views in between barbs at Bill Clinton and a trip down memory lane in which he writes about his grandfather, who rose from poverty to become a successful car dealer in Ohio.
O'Rourke takes on foreign policy in Peace Kills: America's Fun New Imperialism. Written after September 11, 2001, and after the U.S.-led invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, Peace Kills finds O'Rourke in Israel and Egypt, reporting from the front lines of the War on Terror and commenting about most Americans' disgust of foreign policy. Some critics noted that O'Rourke's satire seemed tame compared to his previous books, yet still contained his trademark wit. "With less embroidery, our comedian seems to be maturing, citing eminent greybeards like Fouad Ajami and Bernard Lewis," wrote a contributor to Kirkus Reviews. In covering his topic, he reacts to statements by Nobel laureates, attends a Palestinian march on Washington, DC, and visits Kosovo and Iwo Jima. "O'Rourke's book does many of the things a conservative bestseller is supposed to do: it's irreverent, in-your-face and often offensive," wrote a reviewer for Publishers Weekly.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 185, First Series, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1997.
American Enterprise, May, 1999, David Henderson, review of Eat the Rich: A Treatise on Economics, p. 81.
American Spectator, September, 1987, Edward H. Crane, review of Republican Party Reptile: Essays and Outrages, p. 45; December, 1987, review of Republican Party Reptile, p. 42; September, 1989, review of Modern Manners: An Etiquette Book for Rude People, p. 23; September, 1991, Daniel Wattenberg, review of Parliament of Whores: A Lone Humorist Attempts to Explain the Entire U.S. Government, pp. 36-38; December, 1991, review of Parliaments of Whores, pp. 13-14; January, 1999, Dave Shiflett, review of Eat the Rich, p. 68.
Booklist, August, 1995, review of Age and Guile Beat Youth, Innocence and a Bad Haircut: Twenty-Five Years of P.J. O'Rourke, p. 1907; April 1, 1996, Mary Carroll, review of The American Spectator's Enemies List: A Vigilant Journalist's Plea for a Renewed Red Scare, p. 1339; April 15, l998, review of Age and Guile Beat Youth, Innocence, and a Bad Haircut, p. 1460; July, 1998, review of Eat the Rich, p. 1827; July, 2001, Mary Carroll, review of The CEO of the Sofa, p. 1947; May 15, 2004, Mary Carroll, review of Peace Kills: America's Fun New Imperialism, p. 1578.
Chicago Tribune, July 10, 1989, Kerry Luft, review of Modern Manners.
Entertainment Weekly, October 2, 1998, review of Eat the Rich, p. 69.
ETC, spring, 1999, Martin Levinson, review of Eat the Rich, p. 106.
Financial Times, December 19, 1998, Lucy Kellaway, "Water, Salad and Too Few One-Liners," p. WFT3.
Forbes, September 21, 1998, review of Eat the Rich, p. S181.
Globe and Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), May 2, 1987, William French, review of Republican Party Reptile; September 3, 1988, Henry Jaworski, review of Holidays in Hell; June 22, 1991, David Olive, review of Parliament of Whores.
Independent, October 10, 2001, "You Ask the Question," p. S7.
Journal of Australian Political Economy, June, 1999, Frank Stilwell, review of Eat the Rich, p. 141.
Kirkus Reviews, August 1, 1998, review of Eat the Rich, p. 1094; April 15, 2004, review of Peace Kills, p. 380.
Library Journal, June 15, 1987, Susan Avallone, review of Republican Party Reptile, p. 70; August, 1995, Pamela R. Daubenspeck, "P.J. O'Rourke," p. 74; April 15, 1996, Pamela R. Daubenspeck, review of The American Spectator's Enemies List, p. 89; August, 1998, Jim Burns, review of Eat the Rich, p. 107; August, 2001, A.J. Anderson, review of The CEO of the Sofa, p. 108.
Maclean's, November 16, 1998, Deirdre McMurdy, review of Eat the Rich, p. 86.
National Review, September 30, 1988, review of Holidays in Hell, p. 60; August 26, 1991, Allen Randolph, review of Parliament of Whores, p. 41; September 1, 1998, Mark Cunningham, review of Eat the Rich, p. 53.
New Statesman and Society, September 13, 1991, Anthony Quinn, review of Parliament of Whores, p. 37; September 4, 1992, Marek Kohn, review of Give War a Chance: Eyewitness Accounts of Mankind's Struggle against Tyranny, Injustice, and Alcohol-free Beer, p. 37; December 16, 1994, Douglas Kennedy, review of All the Trouble in the World: The Lighter Side of Famine, Pestilence, Destruction, and Death, p. 68; December 15, 1995, review of Age and Guile Beat Youth, Innocence, and a Bad Haircut, p. 66.
New York Times Book Review, May 3, 1987, Lewis Burke Frumke, review of The Bachelor Home Companion and Republican Party Reptile, p. 30; January 29, 1989, Tom Ferrell, Holidays in Hell, p. 32; June 30, 1991, Signe Wilkinson, review of Parliament of Whores, p. 15; April 19, 1992, Terry Teachout, review of Give War a Chance, p. 6; October 16, 1994, Florence King, review of All the Trouble in the World, p. 12; September 10, 1995, Robert Christgau, review of Age and Guile Beat Youth, Innocence and a Bad Haircut, p. 30; September 13, 1998, Peter Passell, review of Eat the Rich, p. 13; December 6, 1998, review of Eat the Rich, p. 80; September 5, 1999, review of Eat the Rich, p. 24; December 5, 1999, review of Eat the Rich, p. 104; September 16, 2001, Allen Boyer, review of The CEO of the Sofa, p. 28.
Observer (London, England), December 6, 1998, review of Eat the Rich, p. 13; August 8, 1999, review of Eat the Rich, p. 14.
Publishers Weekly, March 16, 1992, Chris Goodrich, review of Give War a Chance, pp. 60-61; July 17, 1995, review of Age and Guile Beat Youth, Innocence and a Bad Haircut, p. 213; February 19, 1996, review of The American Spectator's Enemies List, p. 210; July 20, 1998, review of Eat the Rich, p. 195; August 13, 2001, review of The CEO of the Sofa, p. 301, and Steven Zeitchik, "PW Talks with P.J. O'Rourke," p. 302; May 10, 2004, review of Peace Kills, p. 47.
Quadrant, June, 2002, Imre Salusinsky, review of The CEO of the Sofa, p. 84.
Reason, October, 1991, Matthew B. Kibbe, review of Parliament of Whores, p. 62; February, 1999, Max Schulz, review of Eat the Rich, p. 71.
Reference and Research Book News, May, 1999, review of Eat the Rich, p. 178.
Spectator, December 12, 1998, review of Eat the Rich, p. 36; November 20, 1999, review of Eat the Rich, p. 49.
Time, October 17, 1988, R.Z. Sheppard, review of Holidays in Hell, p. 82; June 12, 1989, Stefan Kanfer, review of Modern Manners, p. 69; April 15, 1991, Michael Riley, "Of Cows, Scuds and Scotch," p. 58; July 8, 1991, Michael Riley, review of Parliament of Whores, p. 59; May 18, 1992, review of Give War a Chance, p. 81; October 31, 1994, Eugene Linden, review of All the Trouble in the World, pp. 79, 82.
Times Literary Supplement, September 27, 1991, review of Parliament of Whores, p. 31.
Washington Post Book World, August 6, 1989, Jonathan Yardley, review of Holidays in Hell, p. 11; June 2, 1991, review of Parliament of Whores, p. 6.
World and I, August, 1992, Lauren Weiner, review of Give War a Chance, pp. 350-355.
Writer's Digest, February, 1999, Dawn Simonds Ramirez, "O'Rourke: Read, Then Write," p. 8.
Conservative Bookstore, http://www.conservativebookstore.com/ (February 27, 2002), W.J. Rayment, review of Eat the Rich.
P.J. O'Rourke Home Page, http://www.pjorourke.com (June 7, 2006).
Spike, http://www.spikemagazine.com/ (February 27, 2002), Gary Marshall, "Readers Digest."