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.

Related Posts

Climate: A New Story – Book Review

Open your mind, or not.

This may sound strange but if you are weary of reading books about climate change, Climate: A New Story by Charles Eisenstein could be just the book for you.

At the beginning of January, I was definitely not interested in reading yet another book about climate change, when I spotted an article in the Yes! Media newsletter that arrives in my email inbox on Friday afternoons.

“Threats of global catastrophe won’t move people to action. Only the heart can inspire zeal.”

That text just below the article entitled, Why the Climate Change Message Isn’t Working caught my attention. I thought, “Yes, I totally agree.” The article contained an excerpt from Climate: A New Story.

My Copy of Climate A New Story Bristling with Sticky Flags

I was intrigued so I bought the book. It is now bristling with colored sticky flags (I reuse them), signaling that I found many interesting and thought-provoking passages worth marking for review and discussion.

Book Review

Reading Climate: A New Story requires a little bit of preparation. First, make sure you have some sticky flags, scraps of paper, or a highlighter on hand because trust me; there will be passages you will want to return to later. Second, to get the most out of your reading experience I recommend leaving your personal climate change baggage behind and approaching the book with an open mind.

The book contains twelve main chapters with titles like “A Crisis of Being,” “Beyond Climate Fundamentalism,” “A Bargain with the Devil,” “An Affair of the Heart,” and “Bridge to a Living World.”

I was riveted from the first chapter. Here is a taste of what you will be reading.

Chapter 1 – A Crisis of Being

This chapter is worth reading twice because it forms the basis for the balance of the book. For me, concepts like the story of separation and interbeing were new, the concept of they was not. Although I laughed when Eisenstein described the possible concerns of a fracking executive, he makes a good point that they are people, too.

Environmentalists may not like the part where Eisenstein asks us, meaning everyone on the planet, to give up fighting. After all, fighting, stopping, and banning things are major components of the current environmental movement. I know because I have been a willing participant.

“We call arguments “rational” when they appeal to self-interest. This book will argue that rational reasons are not enough; that the ecological crisis is asking for a revolution of love.”

Chapter 2 – Beyond Climate Fundamentalism

The first page of this chapter contains a hilarious, but probably sadly true, hypothetical exchange between Eisenstein and a prominent environmentalist proselytizing that addressing climate change is the only thing that matters.

“While this book is focused on the realm of ecological healing, it disengages from the rhetoric of “Nothing else is important compared to this. That’s the rhetoric that has alienated so many working-class people and minorities from environmentalism because it carries a patronizing message of “We know better than you do what you should be caring about.”

He goes on to explain why he believes that social healing and ecological healing are the same work and that neither can succeed without the other.

Chapter 3 – The Climate Spectrum and Beyond.

This chapter is all about framing the so-called climate debate and provides a new term “climate derangement,” which I think is much more descriptive than climate change or global warming.

I will leave you here with my favorite quote from “Chapter 8 – A Bargain with Devil”.

“By appealing to self-interest and fear we strengthen the habits of self-interest and fear, which, let’s face it, usually conspire to destroy the planet not save it. We will never increase the amount of care in the world by appealing to self-interest.

The Bottom Line

After graduating from Yale University with a degree in mathematics and philosophy, Charles Eisenstein moved to Taiwan, learned a new language, and spent the next ten years as a Chinese-English translator. This experience and others influenced the later direction of his life. Now, he is a writer, a speaker, and a podcaster focusing on civilization, consciousness, money, and human cultural evolution.

While I was reading Climate: A New Story, I often found myself wanting to jump up and go tell someone in my family about what I had just read. I showed some restraint by saving up tidbits and sharing them at the dinner table.

Generally, I thought that Climate: A New Story was a readable book but occasionally Eisenstein drifted off using language that seemed like he was more interested in hearing his own voice than making his ideas accessible to the reader. When that happened, I either read those parts again or skipped over them.

Climate: A New Story is about way more than climate. Everyone should read this book. Readers will come away with their own thoughts but I doubt anyone will be unmoved. I especially recommend this book to my fellow environmentalists because we need to broaden our horizons.

“Not-in-my-backyard thinking, when universalized to an empowered citizenry, becomes not-in-anyone’s-backyard.

Featured Image at Top: A majestic sunrise over the mountains – photo credit iStock/Alex Sava.

Related Posts