Dark Money – Book Review

Stand up for our democracy or it will cease to exist.

Dark Money is the book you do not want to read that you must read if you care about the Earth and the people who live on it.

Not long ago, I was wandering through the non-fiction book aisles in the San Luis Obispo Library scanning the shelves for interesting books. I occasionally use this random approach to book selection because it enables me to spot books that are worth reading that may not be on my “to read” list.

Dark Money: the Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right, by Jane Mayer, published January 19, 2016, is one of those books.

The first thing that caught my attention was that there were three copies of the book sitting on the shelf. That seemed significant because the Library is well stocked but not big.

Dark Money Book Cover


The dark blue book spines were emblazoned with the title Dark Money in gold lettering and the Great Seal of the United States had been modified to show the bald eagle holding a bag of money instead of an olive branch in its right talon.

Intrigued I pulled the book off the shelf, read the book jacket text, and scanned the table of contents. It did indeed seem like a dark book to read, but an important one so I checked it out.

Book Review

Essentially Dark Money is a history of how, beginning in the 1970s, a small group of billionaires, spearheaded by Charles and David Koch and a few others has been systematically taking control of the U.S. federal government and infiltrating state governments.

What is their mission? They claim to be libertarians who believe in small government, liberty, and freedom for all Americans.

However, their actions tell a different story.

Readers you are about to embark on a journey through the hidden world of money in politics as Jane Mayer unravels thousands of threads that lead to the organizations who shield their billionaire donors that call the shots.

Dark Money unfolds in three parts.

  • Part One: Weaponizing Philanthropy: The War of Ideas, 1970-2008
  • Part Two: Secret Sponsors: Covert Operations, 2009-2010
  • Part Three: Privatizing Politics: Total Combat, 2011-2014

You will read about the corruption of think tanks and academia and the true nature of organizations with innocuous sounding names like the Americans for Prosperity Foundation.

Mayer will show you how the Tea Party is not a spontaneous grassroots movement, but a calculated and far-reaching campaign funded by dark money.

She will describe the dark money clan’s attempt to give themselves an image makeover in hopes that the American public will view these ruthless billionaires as people who care about them.

The Bottom Line

Jane Mayer is an award-winning investigative journalist and author. She has been writing for The New Yorker since 1995 covering politics, culture, and national security.

Mayer’s August 23, 2010, news article in The New Yorker entitled “Covert Operations” provided an impetus for her to write Dark Money.

She conducted hundreds of interviews over a five-year period, many on the record, but not all because some people feared reprisals. She also read books, new stories, and studies, which are documented in the extensive notes section at the back of the book.

The material covered is both detailed and complex. Mayer did an excellent job making the book readable and I think accessible to a wide audience.

While reading the book, I was disturbed and outraged. I did not want to accept that a handful of ultra-wealthy American citizens were willing to sacrifice our democracy and destroy the wellbeing of hundreds of millions of people and the environment we all live in 24/7/365.

There were times when I wanted to stop reading Dark Money and return it to the library. But I persevered because I feel it is my duty as a human being and a mother to look the darkness in the face and then do something about it.

After reading Dark Money, I realized how naive I had been. I used to say off the cuff things like, “Corporations own the government.” or “Money buys elections.” without really understanding the full ramifications of what that means. Now, I do.

What Can You Do?

When faced with a seemingly insurmountable problem, the urge to turn away is strong. I understand I feel like that a lot. The thing is that you have a choice to take action or not.

Here are just a few ideas of things you can do.

  • Read Dark Money and discuss it with your family and friends.
  • Vote in every election for every office and every ballot measure.
  • Make the effort to be an informed voter.
  • Help get people to the polls.
  • Support campaign finance reform.

If we do not stand up for ourselves, the dark money crowd will truly own our country.

Featured Image at Top: Inequality and power imbalance are represented by chess pieces on a scale – photo credit iStock/tifonimages.

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Amity and Prosperity – Book Review

No one should be sacrificed in the name of energy.

Amity and Prosperity: One Family and the Fracturing of America could be anyone’s story and that is why you should read this book by Eliza Griswold.

Not long ago, I was scrolling down the New York Times 100 Notable Books of 2018 list, when I spotted Amity and Prosperity. I instantly knew I wanted to read the book and the holiday season seemed the perfect occasion to do it.

At this time of year, our hearts are filled generosity and goodwill towards other people. Juxtaposed against this are rampant consumerism and a significant boost in fossil fuel use as people crank up their heaters, cook and bake holiday foods, light up homes and neighborhoods, ship packages overnight, and fly across the country to enjoy festivities with family and friends.

The thing is that mining for coal, drilling for oil, and fracking for natural gas are industrial activities with terrible side effects especially for the people who live where it occurs. This is not okay. We need to get off fossil fuels and protect everyone’s right to clean air, water, and a habitable planet to live on.

In Amity and Prosperity, Griswold brings to life the stories of real people struggling to live their lives in the shadow of the ever-expanding natural gas fracking industry in Appalachia. It is easy to look away or say you do not want to read or hear about it, but I believe we all have a responsibility to find out what is really going on in our country and then try to change it.

Book Review

Appalachia is a place of natural beauty with warm-hearted patriotic people living on land abundant in energy resources like coal, oil, and natural gas. Many families have lived in the same area and even on the same land for generations. Over 150 years of mining and drilling for fossil fuels has taken a heavy toll on the people and the land.

As you read Amity and Prosperity you will meet Stacey Haney, a nurse, and single mother, and her two children Harley and Paige as well as their neighbors, other family members, and people in and around the community of Amity in Washington County, Pennsylvania (yes, it is a real town). Attorneys, state and federal agency employees, and fracking industry representatives will also make appearances.

Amity and Prosperity Book CoverEliza Griswold and Stacey Haney met on March 23, 2011, at the Morgantown Airport at a West Virginia/Pennsylvania Monongahela Area Watersheds Compact meeting, where Stacey had spoken about living near a Marcellus shale natural gas fracking operation.

After the meeting, her daughter Paige said, “You did good, Mom. You only cried twice.”

The next day, Griswold visited the Haney’s for the first time. Over the course of seven years, she would make 37 trips and follow the stories of 45 people.

All Stacey Haney was asking for was to be able to get safe clean drinking water from her well so she and her kids could be healthy and live happily on their farm.

“The people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment. Pennsylvania’s public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including generations yet to come. As trustee of these resources, the Commonwealth shall conserve and maintain them for the benefit of all people.”

—Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Article 1, Section 27 Natural resources and the public estate (1967 amendment)

The Bottom Line

When poet, journalist, and author Eliza Griswold rode across a river in Nigeria on an empty oil drum in 2007, she did not know it would lead to writing Amity and Prosperity.

After visiting and writing about places like Nigeria, where extremely poor people live on land that is rich in energy resources, Griswold decided, she wanted to return home and tell the stories of the people who live where energy extraction takes place in the United States.

One thing that struck me while reading the book is that Griswold herself is inconspicuous, present but not seen. She allowed the people living in Washington County, Pennsylvania to tell their stories, often in their own words with seemingly very little interference from her. I like that.

Imagine the courage it would take to open up your life to public scrutiny.

Stacey Haney would probably have been satisfied to live her entire life without becoming the heroine of a book and chances are her children would have preferred that, too. Yet, courageously and honestly, they and others did share their daily lives and struggles with readers everywhere.

Somehow, I get the feeling that Stacey Haney would not care about being an inspiration to anyone, but she is to me.

Featured Image at Top: Part of an American Flag Reflected in Waterdrops – Photo Credit iStock/perkijl

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