Being funny on paper is difficult. Being consistently funny is really hard. And being all that when writing about presidents is basically unheard of.
Daniel O’Brien’s How To Fight Presidents, against all odds, does just that. Hell, even the illustrations contained in the book and the full title (“Defending Yourself Against the Badasses Who Ran This Country”) are pretty damn funny.
What you’re getting when you pick up this book is pretty simple: a chapter-by-chapter look at every president from George Washington to Ronald Reagan, discussing their lives, accomplishments, legacies, and, oh yeah, how you might go about beating the ever-loving shit out of them… as if you stood a chance.
Honestly, all that might be enough for me to write a positive review. You see, I’m something of a nerd when it comes to the history of American presidents. I wouldn’t call myself a savant by any stretch, but for whatever reason, I’ve always been a sucker for a good POTUS story.
What makes this book is O’Brien’s writing style—a casual mix of sophomoric humor, absurdity and wit that couldn’t be more up my alley if it lived in my fucking apartment. Granted, I’m sure he’s been this way for years now—he’s a head writer at Cracked.com, though I think I’ve been to the site maybe three times—but as a means of first introduction, this was a hell of a start.
Aside from all the various nuggets the book is chocked full of (Did you know, for instance, that the doctor who tended to William McKinley after he was shot was actually a gynecologist?), there’s lines like the ones listed below that had me laughing (literally) at least once-a-chapter out loud. Think about that before you read this. OK, now read.
In describing President Zachary Taylor’s response to an ambush by Native Americans during combat: “The soldiers panicked… Taylor was disoriented and outnumbered but apparently he must have left all of his fucks back at Fort Knox, because by the time the battle started, he had none left to give.”
In describing the choice of Rutherford B. Hayes as presidential nominee over Samuel Tilden by the Republicans: “[he] wasn’t so much a ‘successful reformer’ as he was ‘some fucking guy.’”
In describing Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s final term: “He needed to die in office; it was the only way Americans would stop voting for him. Hell, I still write him in every four years.”
If you haven’t smiled, even a little bit, at any of these quotes not only is this book not for you, but I don’t know what to say or do that can provide you the help you truly need.
Like someone that has seen a stand-up special before his friends, all I want to do is keep sharing the hilarious lines from How To Fight. But, I know my place. This is a review, so let me be clear: This is one of the funniest books I’ve read in my life. If any of what you’ve read above even sounds remotely enjoyable, you’ve already wasted too much time—go and get it.