October 6, 2009

Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us: Prologue Review

This is the first installment in a chapter-by-chapter review of Ralph Nader's work, Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us. You can read the past synopsis here. Check back tomorrow for a review by Viator, our special guest analyst.


First, I'd like to note Mr. Nader's generosity in describing Mr. Buffett as actually having a soul, although there is a faint whiff of demonology in the way that Buffett "summoned two assistants"(p.12) that is reminiscent of Marlowe's Faust.

I was interested in the way that "the old-timers noticed that there were no reporters, no photographers, no television crews" covering the event because it looked like a major plot point. The idea that the media, desperate for content to fill the 24-hour news cycle, would ignore Warren Buffett doing something unusual, the refugees from Hurricane Katrina, and one of the largest and most rapidly assembled aid convoys in modern history all in the same story was so implausible that I wondered if the entire book was going to be a fight-club-esque chronicle of a wealthy man's descent into delusional madness.

Unfortunately, since it's the "old-timers" noticing the lack of media attention, not Buffett, I have to concede that it is less of a major plot point and more of a major plot hole.

As to the writing itself, Mr. Nader writes with a passion and intensity belied by his reputation as a professional killjoy. He is a fan of adjectives, although he tends to belabor a point by hammering it home with the rule of threes:
  • Warren Buffett begins by watching three aspects of Katrina (breached levees, helicopter crews searching for survivors, the survivors themselves). Then he stays home to see three more items covered by the news, and the third item is made of an additional three parts (floating corpses, people stranded, refugee centers crowded with "human depair, human kindness, and human depravity").

  • He sees the refugees broken into three groups (the whole group of refugees, the mothers and fathers, and the extended families), all looking for surprise twist four things ("water, food, medicine, any kind of shelter"), so that's three sets of three items each that Buffett has watched from the Katrina coverage.

  • Three types of government (local, state, and federal) are all paralyzed.

  • There are three things wrong with the people in power (ineptitude, recklessness, and rottenness).

  • Buffett does three things to comfort the refugees ("He took their hands, hugged their trembling children, and looked into their eyes").

  • And three days after the event, Buffett "knew exactly what he had to do--now, fast, fundamentally, and unyieldingly").
What lies in store for the mega-millionaire? After tomorrow's review, the synopsis for Chapter 1 will be posted on Friday!

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