The lefties love Jon Stewart, the Republicans fear him (but appear on The Daily Show for a gentle bout of ball-busting anyway), and the irony-damaged young people of this nation worship him for his ability to reduce the most terrifying and senseless world events to a nightly “moment of zen.” America (The Book) bottles the show’s sensibility in the form of an American history textbook, complete with an introduction by Thomas Jefferson (who, as a feature called “Your Unelectable Founders” points out, probably wouldn’t make it into the White House today due to his penchant for mocha chicas like Sally Hemings). Alongside the funny time-lines, charts, and activities (such as an unpleasant paper-doll game starring naked Supreme Court justices) are features on American history, the workings of the legislative and judicial systems, the media, and political lobbyists (“the unsung heroes of American government”). There’s even a helpful guide to writing a letter to your congressman, an action that “shows you care enough about an issue to spend five, maybe ten minutes expressing your opinion—an investment of time that, by contemporary standards, makes you Cesar Freakin’ Chavez.” Like most Daily Show content, this stuff is thoroughly satirical yet could serve as a decent substitute for civics class in this underfunded No Child Left Behind era.
My favorite chart lets discriminating readers contrast the pros and cons of different political systems. A typical day in a democracy is all about “Counting your money and deciding which fast food to eat,” as compared to a totalitarian regime (“Marching, marching, marching”), an Occupied Territory (“so many rocks, so little time”), or a third-world resort island where you’d be “earning $5 a day moving chairs around a pool for white kids who ask if you can get them pot.” Jon Stewart knows the American way: When in crisis, we like to mock ourselves to sleep.