Book Review: This Land Is Their Land

Barbara Ehrenreich’s no garden-variety pessimist on health care, Wal-Mart, and the superrich. She’s a full-fledged member of the glass-has-only-one-drop-left cohort.

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis, the election, and more, subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter.


The secret source of humor, Mark Twain famously observed, is not joy, but sorrow. This collection of short commentaries from the prolific and sharp-tongued social critic Barbara Ehrenreich suggests a corollary principle: The secret source of satire is not bemusement, but anger. And make no mistake—Ehrenreich is mighty PO’d.

The targets of her ire are a deserving, if predictable, bunch. Wal-Mart, health care execs, Big Pharma, the superrich, and, naturally, the bigwigs of Bush Co. all get drive-bys here. Ehrenreich imagines a notorious corporate layoff artist consigned to a fate in which he is faced with “a choice of Dick Cheney or Nancy Grace as a roommate and spending eternity listening to Sanjaya’s greatest hits.” In one of her more purely comic essays, Ehrenreich demands that God apologize for the South Asian tsunami (his “latest felony”) and decries his “penchant for wanton, homicidal mischief.”

Overreaching is an occupational hazard for professional pundits, and Ehrenreich is not immune. In the realm of health care reform, she contends, all the Democratic presidential candidates (save Dennis Kucinich) are guilty of “Chamberlain-like appeasement.” The health care industry may be dysfunctional, but are insurance companies really like Nazis? And while This Land casts a useful spotlight on various injustices and absurdities, it lacks the heft and original reportage of Nickel and Dimed.

By the end of the book, it’s clear that Ehrenreich isn’t a garden-variety glass-is-half-empty pessimist; she’s a full-fledged member of the glass-has-only-one-drop-left cohort. If you need to bone up on your talking points before encountering that mouthy right-wing cousin at an upcoming family get-together, This Land belongs on your summer reading list.

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

We Recommend

Latest