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The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society
Miscellanea and Ephemeron

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03/01/2004 Archived Entry: "Benjamin Franklin and Steve Austin book reviews"

Benjamin Franklin: An American Life
by Walter Isaacson
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
ISBN: 0684807610


The Stone Cold Truth
by Stone Cold Steve Austin
Publisher: WWE
ISBN: 0743477200

Reviewed by Kitty Johnson

You know, if it weren't for on-line porn, I wouldn't read fiction at all. My tastes (if we can use that word) run to the earthy, gritty truth of existence, i.e. not that stuff people make up out of their heads. However, I admit that I sometimes leaven my high-porn diet with a biography or two, but I never lose sight of the gritty earthiness of it all.

For one thing, biographies have indices, and indices are very good for gauging porn-levels. There I'll be with a copy of Hammurabai: That Babylonian Bad Boy, and I've got my nose in the index looking up "Hammurabai and sex" or (even more fun) "Hammurabi and sexual prowess" or (this is me being totally frolicsome) "Hammurabai and sexual failures." (Then after I look up "sex", I always look up "Elvis" figuring that any book worth reading will acknowledge the King.)

Uh-oh, looks like there's no Elvis in Walter Isaacson's best-selling Benjamin Franklin: An American Life (Simon and Schuster 2003). But are you really surprised? Still, Isaacson is placid and fair, and, although Franklin's autobiography itself was much livelier, that ought to count for something. Besides we need this biography; the story of Ben Franklin is the closest we come to defining success in America. Poor boy works hard, makes good, and impresses the world. (Hey, maybe there IS some Elvis in Isaacson after all.)

On the other hand, The Stone Cold Truth, wrestler Stone Cold Steve Austin's autobiography (Pocket Books, 2003), looks pretty sexy and Elvis-y, but there is no index (you have to leaf through its pages looking for fun in the old fashioned way). It's very easy to be snooty about Stone Cold's glee over the new Wal-Mart that's opened just ten miles from his home (p. 272), but Stone Cold also manages to include some touching little pensees on success as he lurches from the cradle to television to Branson to the grave. But Monsieur Stone Cold's oeuvre is also intellectually stimulating. See, wrestling, like everything else, is divided into good and evil. But, instead of the old Guelph/Ghibelline, breath mint/candy mint paradigm, wrestling has babyfaces versus heels. Say, Stone Cold knows his Miltonic binaries: "when you're a heel, you can do absolutely anything. As a babyface, there are a lot of parameters and boundaries you can't cross." Tell it to Aristotle, brother!

Stone Cold's pathologically casual writing has little in common with Isaacson's burnished-textbook style, but the slow-cooked truth is that these two books form a interesting chain of commentary about the American dream, which is nice when it succeeds but just spectacular when it fails.

If this sort of discourse interests you, you might want to look at a couple of other recent, but out-of-print biographies, Nick Tosches's irritatingly brilliant biography of Dean Martin, Dino, and the flat-out brilliant Leading with my Heart by Virginia Clinton Kelley, mother of our Zeus-like former president (out of print, and yet Elizabeth Wurtzel lives! What is God thinking of!) Kelley and Tosches are, unsurprisingly, so saturated with Elvis and sex that their prose just oozes right off the page . Virginia with her four husbands and her lawsuits! Dean with his Percodans and divorces! At the heart of all these life stories is America, that very strange promised land that Ben Franklin thought he had reached when he died in 1790, but, despite saved pennies and all the earliness to bed in the world, no one has found since.

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