For most of Rachel Maddow’s adulthood, the United States has been at war. In her long-awaited first book, Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power, due out March 27th from Crown, she charts our “drift” into repeated circumstances of military intervention, from Lyndon Johnson’s fateful decision to send active-duty troops to Vietnam to today’s unpopular war in Afghanistan. She recommends “a course correction,” a return to honoring the disincentives to war deliberately built into our American system of government.
You can click here, then scroll down the page to my starred review of Drift, posted with other starred reviews from our March 15, 2012, issue.
I was lucky to catch up with Maddow, electronically, to learn more about her as a writer, reader‚ and puddle? Some puddle!
MH: You mention being a really slow writer. Slow in that your life is so full that you can only fit the writing in every so often, or slow in that you write and rewrite every sentence over and over?
RM: All that and more. Even when I clear time to write, my procrastination skills are epic. I will read for years, I will read for miles before I ever finally force myself to put pen to paper. And even then, I’ll just write bullet points and outlines and new research questions indefinitely.
In the end, it is only shame and panic that make me write a paragraph. Once I do get myself writing, I can build momentum, but the whole thing grinds to a halt again as soon as I take a break. Editing doesn’t kill me as much as writing does‚ but writing kills me.
MH: Your book’s subtitle defines our use of military power as unmoored. If you were to write a book on what’s happened to the GOP since 2008, might the subtitle instead refer to being unhinged?
RM: Unhinged implies random and purposeless movement‚ I don’t think that’s what’s going on in the GOP. I think the conservative movement (including the leviathan conservative media) knows where it’s going, and it doesn’t much care if it makes Republican politicians look nutso on the way there.
MH: I stand corrected!
RM: They’re engaged in a long-term project to move the center of the country far to the right of where it is now, and that means constantly moving the rightward edge of politics further and further out there. Today’s moderate GOP positions would have been seen as certifiably, almost maniacally, right-wing not even a generation ago. What they’re doing looks crazy, but it’s working.
MH: Is there a particular book you recommend relating to the 2012 presidential election?
RM: Gail Collins’s new book [coming out in June], As Texas Goes‚Ä¶: How the Lone Star State Hijacked the American Agenda, is rip-roaringly funny and offers great insights on where conservative policy ideas are coming from these days. It would be the book of the year if Rick Perry had been the GOP nominee, but even though he won’t be, it’s still the smartest and most enjoyable thing I’ve read this year that directly pertains to this election season.
MH: When it comes to reading, what’s your preferred method? For example, do you opt for e-sources for professional research, but prefer the codex for leisure reading? Or do you also prefer print sources for professional reading as well, in order to underline, make marginal notes, etc.? Not in library books, of course!
RM: I am a paper monster. I am happy doing all of my digging and cross-referencing on a screen, but as soon as I’ve got something I’m going to use, I have to have it on paper. And get me a yellow highlighter and a mechanical pencil, stat!
I print about a ream of paper every day to produce my show (I’m sorry‚ I will plant a tree in your name). I use a lot of physical books for research‚ if I own them, I write all over them (sorry again). If I’m using a library book or a borrowed text, I will often photocopy what I need so I can scribble at will. I can’t read for leisure on a screen of any kind‚ paper only, please. Probable cause of death: crushed by falling tower of unfiled notes.
MH: And I’ll be crushed by some pile of books. But I’ll have kept the paper industry happy along with you. Speaking of leisure, in your downtime at home, would we recognize your personality, or do you operate at a different energy level?
RM: I’m a puddle of nothingness at home. I bug the dog, I make drinks, I read comic books, I put on country music really loud and make Susan dance around with me in the living room. I split wood for therapy and sleep as late as I possibly can and take unnecessary showers. Oh, and Yahtzee!‚ there’s a lot of Yahtzee. I go to great lengths to turn the brain off, in other words. If I don’t, I get cranky and dull-witted.
MH: Hard to imagine that last bit. Now, about making drinks‚Ä¶my favorite cocktail of those you’ve recommended on your show is the whiskey skim, but what’s the best beverage to drink while reading Drift?
RM: Depends. If you’re prone to dyspepsia, probably Alka-Seltzer, at least for the chapter about all the accidental dropping and losing of nuclear bombs. But if you’re just cuddling up with the book for fun, there’s a great cocktail called a French 75 that’s supposedly (read: apocryphally) named for an artillery piece‚ half an ounce each of lemon juice and simple syrup, an ounce of gin, top with champagne. That should at least get you through the prolog, if not the part about what LBJ shouted from the toilet about Ho Chi Minh.