Thursday, December 13, 2007

Chuck Thompson

The first editor in chief of Travelocity magazine, Chuck Thompson’s work has appeared in Maxim, The Atlantic, Esquire, National Geographic Adventure, and Escape, among many others. He has played in a variety of bands, and worked as an ESL instructor, DJ, and assistant sergeant of arms in the Alaska House of Representatives.

His new book is Smile When You're Lying: Confessions of a Rogue Travel Writer.

Earlier this month I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
I'm currently reading a couple things at once (my usual habit):

Confessions of an Economic Hit Man: The Shocking Inside Story of How America REALLY Took Over the World, by John Perkins. This is one of the books that people read and pass along to friends with "you gotta read this thing" insistence. It's a very readable memoir of the author's career serving the U.S. government as an "economic hit man," selling massive construction and infrastructure projects to developing countries (Ecuador, Indonesia, others), using the IMF and World Bank to reel foreign governments into massive loans they will never be able to pay off. When it becomes apparent they will never be able to repay their debts to the U.S., we "trade" them small chunks of debt cancellation in exchange for favors such as UN votes or military bases. This all seems like high conspiracy stuff, but Perkins did the job for decades and lays out in very simple and convincing fashion how it all works, A to Z. Perkins is a bit of a self-promoter himself so you have to wonder about the legitimacy of everything in the book, but if you have any interest at all in how the backroom deals of world affairs work, this is an eye-opener.

Henderson the Rain King, by Saul Bellow. Having just returned from a month in Africa I remain immersed in all sorts of Africa reading. Before leaving on my trip, I'd plowed through four or five good but tragic histories of the continent (King Leopold's Ghost, African Madness, etc.). Upon my return home, I decided to pick up this terrific Saul Bellow novel which I read back in college. It's a much different "Africa" than you get in social history texts — extremely funny, warm, and engaging. I've only read two or three Bellow novels but re-reading this one confirms that it's my favorite.

Deer Hunting With Jesus: Dispatches From America's Class War, by Joe Bageant. A newspaper reporter pal of mine handed me this book a few days ago and just said: "Read it. You won't be disappointed." I'm only a couple chapters into it but the writing and reporting are first rate. It's a populist take on the trials of the underclass — both liberal and conservative — but told with a lot of empathy. So far, a very astute take on the oft-overlooked "masses."
Visit Chuck Thompson's website and read an excerpt from Smile When You're Lying.

--Marshal Zeringue