This book is both more and less complicated than it advertises itself to be. As the title says it’s a sampler box of Nick Offerman’s favorite Americans, but it’s not until chapter 18 or so that he frankly admits that the entire thing is a vanity project that allows him to have meet-and-greets with famous people who inspire him. I don’t begrudge him that at all, but I wish he had been more upfront about that from the beginning because the early chapters of the book focus on “usual suspects” from American history like George Washington and Frederick Douglass before addressing subjects like George Nakashima and Laurie Anderson.
I don’t blame you if you’re saying “who?” at the last two; half the point of the book is to spotlight contemporary Americans who may not be well-known but that he feels make America better by “breaking the rules”. The thing is that by splitting his attention between the historical and the contemporary, it feels like he shortchanges both. I’m sure Yoko Ono is a wonderful person, but does she really meet the same criteria for inclusion as Theodore Roosevelt? Offerman appears to have the same struggle himself; in his epilogue he fantasizes all 21 people at a mixer, as if to say “you see reader, they’re all on equal ground!”.
However, my issue is one of arrangement rather than content, and I greatly enjoyed the content. Make no mistake, Offerman has selected these people because they embody what HE finds important and so he is understandably quick to insert his own beliefs. He’s very self-deprecating and the entire book is about how inspirational many of the subjects in the book have been to his way of thinking, so he doesn’t present himself as someone who knows all the answers. He also doesn’t seem as open to the opinions of others as he thinks he is, but if the reader disagrees with him it’s easy to balance that against all the times he admits to being a fool.
This is a very humorous look at the important contributions that twenty-one notable individuals have made to our country and one person in particular. I had fun learning and thinking, and ultimately that’s all Offerman really asks of his readers. I just wish he’d written this as a multi-volume project that really let him cut loose instead of stuffing such a hodge-podge of individuals under one cover.