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Book Review: My Bad

My Bad: 25 Years of Public Apologies and the Appalling Behavior That Inspired Them by Paul Slansky, Arleen Sorkin

My Bad starts out with an introduction to its contents– it’s an examination of the half-hearted and insincere apologies that public persons have managed to cough up in the last twenty five years or so. The book then goes on to catalogue each apology, with a comment about its context following the apology itself. Make no mistake: the authors are politically biased, although they shove Democratic politicians’ apologies in there with equal force, they are more harsh in their commentary on Republicans. The apologies are organized largely by the context of the speaker– radio personalities’ apologies are together, as are politicians’ (which provides the largest section, as well as the most repetitive, as the politicians are limited to a very small set of weasel words they can use to mollify without actually accepting blame or responsibility.)

What I liked about this book was that they didn’t pull too many punches– often they quoted the exact word or phrase that the apologist used originally, so readers could decide for themselves if, for instance, radio host David Gold ‘used inappropriate words in describing [his] concerns” when he said that eighteen illegal immigrants who suffocated in a boxcar got what they deserved.

What I wished this book did more was provide genuine commentary and analysis. What we need in this book is a deeper understanding of why “I apologize if I hurt anybody’s feelings” is a completely insufficient apology, for example, for not respecting the Martin Luther King holiday because “We do enough for these people and they’re still not happy. We gave them the right to vote and all that stuff.” (Mathew Panak from Ohio). It would be nice to see an analysis of why weasel words and “I’m sorry if my words hurt you” types of apologies fall so utterly, completely insincerely.

The book contains only one apology from George W. Bush. It contains a couple from the Clintons, and closes with Bill Clinton’s apology at a prayer meeting– an apology the authors feel was sincere enough to warrant the comment “Now that’s an apology.” I tend to think it’s only an apology because they quoted the entire passage, but you can tell from the outset that the authors have a political viewpoint, so I can overlook the slant a bit.

I’d give this a B. It’s a fun book. I wouldn’t pay full price for it, but it’s a good one to have around. Also, it makes an excellent bathroom reader, as each apology+comment is typically less than half a page long.

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