MLA Platinum Award Press Release

BookBrowse Reviews Beautiful Country Burn Again by Ben Fountain

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Beautiful Country Burn Again

Democracy, Rebellion, and Revolution

by Ben Fountain

Beautiful Country Burn Again by Ben Fountain X
Beautiful Country Burn Again by Ben Fountain
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Sep 2018, 448 pages
    Sep 2019, 448 pages


  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
Rebecca Renner
Buy This Book

About this Book



Fountain looks back on 2016 in a series of essays that illuminate the events of the year and the changing identity of America.

The United States reinvents itself every 80 years, at least according to "Apology for Bad Dreams," the poem by Robinson Jeffers in whose lines Beautiful Country Burn Again found its title. The nation's last reinvention was the New Deal, and in this book, Ben Fountain explains why the country is in the midst of its next great reinvention.

To explain his hypothesis of change, which he calls the "Third Reinvention," Fountain presents a series of linked essays that cover the span of the 2016 presidential election. Many of the essays were already published in The Guardian, but even with this reuse, the book feels fresh and new. Fountain is used to writing fiction. His novel, Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk, won many prizes, including the National Book Critics Circle Award, but with Beautiful Country, Fountain proves that the truth can be much stranger than fiction.

The essays open in 2016 with the Iowa primaries, and the story unfolds with familiar characters: Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders and Ted Cruz. Fountain doesn't spare any of the players from critique as he fills readers in on their histories and the lives of their campaigns. Each essay has a "Book of Days," an introduction that summarizes the most inescapable headlines from the month in which it takes place. While the purpose of these sections is clear, they can read like a litany of horrors, distracting from the rest of the story.

Though on the surface, the concept of the book seems like it would be limited in scope, the collection offers a sweeping portrait of not only American politics but of the country at a specific historical moment. It's like a Mad Hatter's tea party: a diverse and chaotic gathering. There is political posturing, conspiracy theories, the slavery-rooted history of police brutality, the Republican National Convention, a gun show in Kentucky, and a look back at Republicans' fight against Roosevelt's New Deal itself.

What Beautiful Country has that many political books lack is a quality of language that is both biting and poetic. Fountain shows his true prowess as a novelist by giving his real-life characters the same level of detail he would to his fictional ones. His prose makes the explanations of Trumpian psychology – of how his voters felt seen and heard by his speeches and the promises of his campaign – almost tolerable, or at least entertaining.

Unlike many other deep dives into politics, Fountain's searing, idiosyncratic prose surges like a freight train and often betrays his feelings. The first essay begins:

Is Hillary freaking? Has to be with all those '08 flashbacks frying the brainpan, the previous coronation spoiled by a grandiloquent rookie who nobody gave a chance, then he rolled her up like a Mafia hit in a cheap rug. Now it's a hectoring old geezer with scribby gray hair and suspiciously perfect teeth, the kind you slide in every morning and snap at the mirror, clack clack.

This isn't your grandmother's poli-sci textbook. It also isn't for everyone. Fountain has a love-it-or-hate-it writing style that is unapologetic in its uniqueness. There is no other book quite like this one.

Beautiful Country Burn Again looks into America's dark past and equally dark present. Though the reader is surely well-versed in its plot points – and how the story ends – this book is more about the journey than the destination.

Reviewed by Rebecca Renner

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in October 2018, and has been updated for the October 2019 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $12 for a year or $39 for 3 months
  • More about membership!

Support BookBrowse

Become a Member and discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten.

Join Now!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket
    Orange World and Other Stories
    by Karen Russell
    Karen Russell has a tremendous gift for crafting uncanny, through-the-looking glass worlds that are ...
  • Book Jacket: The Book of Longings
    The Book of Longings
    by Sue Monk Kidd
    The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd follows the life of Ana, a woman born in the Galilean city of ...
  • Book Jacket: Master Class
    Master Class
    by Christina Dalcher
    Christina Dalcher's Master Class shows America sleepwalking into a perfectionist eventuality not ...
  • Book Jacket: How to Pronounce Knife
    How to Pronounce Knife
    by Souvankham Thammavongsa
    Many examples of immigrant fiction dedicate a portion of their storytelling to exploring details of ...

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Daughter of the Reich
    by Louise Fein

    A spellbinding story of impossible love set against the backdrop of the Nazi regime.
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    The Prisoner's Wife
    by Maggie Brookes

    Inspired by the true story of a courageous young woman who enters a Nazi POW camp to be with the man she loves.
    Reader Reviews

Book Club Discussion
Book Jacket
The Paris Hours
by Alex George

One day in the City of Light. One night in search of lost time.

About the book
Join the discussion!
Win this book!
Win The House on Fripp Island

The House on Fripp Island
by Rebecca Kauffman

A taut, page-turning novel of secrets and strife.



Solve this clue:

B I T T Water

and be entered to win..

Books that     

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.