Law Religion Culture Review

Exploring the intersections of law, religion and culture. Copyright by Richard J. Radcliffe. All rights reserved.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Book Review: A Bold Fresh Piece of Humanity by Bill O'Reilly.

Bill O’Reilly’s “simple and straightforward.”

Just ask him. That’s how he characterizes himself in his 2008 book, A Bold Fresh Piece of Humanity. (p. 59.) I’ll resolve the mystery at the outset: the title comes from how his exasperated teacher described him in elementary school. (p. 3.)

I prefer O’Reilly’s self-description to the teacher’s because it frames the thoughts that follow. While the book mostly operates as a memoir, it is interrupted with large sections containing O’Reilly’s “simple and straightforward” views of the world on such topics as politics (chapter 1 and passim), evil (chapter 4), and religion (chapter 5).

For example, I found O’Reilly’s understanding of Christianity (he’s Roman Catholic) to be rather startling: “There’s a reason the cross is the symbol of Christianity. It is a powerful statement: that a good man suffered for me, that a just God was looking out for me, and if I lived a good life, I would be rewarded after death.” (pp. 74-75; emphasis added.) Likewise, “The endgame, of course, is to earn God’s reward in the afterlife by rejecting evil. And in Catholicism and other Christian religions, the actions of Jesus demonstrate how to do that.” (p. 88.)

On one’s legacy: “[Y]our legacy will be defined by two simple [there’s that word again] questions: “How many wrongs did you right, and how many people did you help when they needed it?” (p. 51.)

In the midst of this quasi-memoir, an entire chapter (“Mysteries of the Universe”) is oddly dedicated to O’Reilly’s random musings about mostly antiquated cultural relics, which I could only conclude constituted filler material to stretch the manuscript to an acceptable length for a hardcover book. In this chapter, O’Reilly ponders such “mysteries” as “Captain Kangaroo”, the 1965 song “Hang On Sloopy” by the McCoys, Vice President from the Nixon Administration Spiro Agnew, the “Mummy” from the 1932 movie starring Boris Karloff, 1960s character “Tiny Tim”, long since cancelled tv shows "The Beverly Hillbillies", "Green Acres" and "Gilligan’s Island", and the 1970 film Love Story, among other irrelevancies (pp. 217-21).

When the book reads as a memoir it improves. It contains many intriguing aspects to O’Reilly’s background. For instance, he taught high school for two years in Miami. He played football in college. He organized adventure trips with his friends. He includes stories about his climb through the ranks of television news, with the constant being O’Reilly’s determination in the face of extreme resistance. He seems to live fearlessly. He sees his purpose as almost messianic. "I can wield the pen and speak my mind without fear. These gifts were given to me, I believe, by a higher power." (p. 111.) Similarly, “When people ask me what drives my fierce work ethic, why I work so hard when I don’t have to anymore, I simply tell them that I’m still on a quest to make sure others get treated fairly.” (p. 238.)

Leaving the memoir track again, the book contains "self-help" tips that fit neatly within his own characterization of being "simple" such as grooming (p. 249), eating healthily (pp. 245-48), helping others (p. 239), thinking first (p. 243), and practicing (p. 243) are important.

If you are able to parse through the lesser portions, you can mine some funny vignettes (and some understanding) about this cultural force.

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