In a year defined by political polemics, it seems fitting that PW's Book of the Year be one in which the authors survey the entire political system—and laugh. America (The Book) offers more than just humor, however. Beneath the eye-catching and at times goofy graphics, the dirty jokes and the playful ingenuousness shines a serious critique of the two-party system, the corporations that finance it and the "spineless cowards in the press" who "aggressively print allegation and rumor independent of accuracy or fairness." In a starred review, PW called the book a "humorous sendup of American politics [that] never fails to entertain, poke fun and provoke thought." And a New York Times review by Tom Carson went so far as to nominate America (The Book) for the history Pulitzer, with the justification that it is "not only more informative about how American government and culture work than the textbooks it burlesques, but gives us a keener sense of having a stake in both."
It's no surprise, then, that America (The Book) is one of the few political titles released this year that had legs past the election. Though a platform like Comedy Central's The Daily Show would give almost any book a boost up on bestseller lists, few would linger there without such strong content. The Daily Show's shameless self-promotion (each episode contains a plug for the book) hasn't hurt sales, and neither have Stewart's skirmishes with Bill O'Reilly and Crossfire's Tucker Carlson and Paul Begala. But these highly publicized encounters don't account for the continued postelection demand for America(The Book) or the popularity of The Daily Show—which has won five Emmys during Stewart's tenure as well as the Television Critics Association's award for outstanding news and public affairs series. What does count is that Stewart and his colleagues speak to a broad demographic, in particular to a generation that has come of age during two of the most heated elections in decades.
The highly visual America (The Book) openly woos younger readers and even includes a foldout Kerry vs. Bush poster that's suitable for pinning up in college dorm rooms. Some students may find America (The Book) on their reading lists; Cornell, Ohio State and other universities have reportedly ordered the title, demonstrating how versatile a mock textbook with a serious political core can be. Taking into account the book's quality, appeal and prominence, both on the bestseller lists and in the culture, is there any question, then, that it is the most notable book of 2004? As Stewart would say: "Not so much."