Book Review – Scoop by Evelyn Waugh

scoopSynopsis (from Amazon) – Evelyn Waugh was one of literature’s great curmudgeons and a scathingly funny satirist. Scoop is a comedy of England’s newspaper business of the 1930s and the story of William Boot, an innocent hick from the country who writes careful essays about the habits of the badger. Through a series of accidents and mistaken identity, Boot is hired as a war correspondent for a Fleet Street newspaper. The uncomprehending Boot is sent to the fictional African country of Ishmaelia to cover an expected revolution. Although he has no idea what he is doing and he can’t understand the incomprehensible telegrams from his London editors, Boot eventually gets the big story.

I have finally figured out why I always feel sorry for the people I meet that claim – sometimes with pride, sometimes with defiance – to never read books. By reading only magazines which, by nature, deal almost exclusively with current events millions of people are missing out on the opportunity of understanding how the past informs the present. How – and I’ll be as trite as possible here because I’m lazy and pressed for time – history repeats itself. Or, put another way, there is nothing new under the sun. It is easy to be distressed by the state of the world, to fear we are at the nadir of society, politics and morality if you do not have a grasp of what has happened before.

Scoop (★★★), written in the 1930s, is a satire of journalism that could easily be dropped into 2012 with few changes and speak to the current state of things. Journalism as the fourth estate, a check on politicians, moral men searching for truth, is a hilariously false stereotype propagated by the industry itself. Sensational journalism, full of speculation couched as truth, has been the bread and butter of newspapers time immortal. In his brief novel, Waugh hilariously confirms what we have all suspected. There is no special skill required to be a journalist. Scoop, in its own way, predicted the emergence of the blogger sixty years later.

Now, realizing journalism in the 21st century hasn’t changed since the 30s (or before) isn’t earth shattering. It isn’t the sort of historical knowledge that will keep you from being depressed about the State of Things. In fact, it might just depress you even more to know the press has been lying and duping us for decades. But, like reading other novels from the recent past, it should give the reader a certain amount of solace to know we will continue to survive the same crises and follies of human nature that  have plagued us forever.

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