The Great Man Theory

Frustration can lead a person to confounding behavior, as a divorced Brooklyn academic discovers in The Great Man Theory by Teddy Wayne (Loner; The Love Song of Johnny Valentine). Paul isn't the first person to be frustrated by society's ills, many of them stemming from Thomas Carlyle's so-called great man theory from 1840, in which history's accomplishments are "the history of the great men who have worked here." That's a phrase favored by Colin Mackey--star of Mackey Live, a conservative-leaning TV opinion show--whom Paul considers a "fascist."

But Paul has other problems besides Mackey. The "semiliterate" U.S. president, never named, infuriates him; the chair of his college's English department demotes him to adjunct status; his 11-year-old daughter is finally getting a good look at her dad, a "curmudgeonly crank" who channels his complaints, from smartphones to podcasts, into a book entitled The Luddite Manifesto; and strained finances force Paul to move in with his mother, a closeted conservative, and become a ride-share driver.

One of his clients is Lauren, a Mackey Live producer. It doesn't spoil the fun of this angry novel to reveal that Paul hatches a plan: pretend to be a conservative, make Lauren fall for him and finagle his way onto the show. Some plot points are too broad, but the highlights of this novel are Paul's complaints--some of them justified and some not, but all argued with admirable passion. Paul sees an increasingly selfish citizenry and is "tired of being amenable with people who didn't deserve it." His solution may be extreme, but equally confounded readers will understand where he's coming from. --Michael Magras, freelance book reviewer

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