It is difficult to explain the excitement I felt when I saw Nick Offerman had written a book about people he considers to be American heroes… and that he narrates the audio book himself. As one of the stars of a tv show I adore, “Parks and Recreation,” Offerman plays the gruff, Libertarian director of the local Parks department in a small town in Indiana. I knew little about him as a person when I began the book, but quickly learned that Offerman has a great deal in common with his character on the show, Ron Swanson (whose memes on the Internet bring me joy on a regular basis).
In “Gumption,” Offerman describes the qualifications of 21 individuals that he posits display courage in their lives, therefore deserving the attention and respect of himself and his readers. The list begins with some of our nation’s founding fathers, and he describes some well-known and other lesser-known stories about greats like George Washington and James Madison. Each individual also gets a nickname, such as “The Orator” (Frederick Douglass) and a history-lesson-style approach to who they are and why they matter. Some of my favorite chapters featured Wendell Berry and Tom Laughlin.
Offerman applies his humorist tendencies, especially to the “old white guys” that he blames for messing up our country with poor, selfish choices. He values human decency and an equal playing field for all, which means he frequently reminds the reader about all the times America as a country has foundered in its fairness, such as the internment of Japanese citizens in World War II.
After the easy Founding Fathers selections, Offerman moves into less-obvious choices including Conan O’Brien, Frederick Olmsted, Michael Pollan and Jeff Tweedy. He strongly favors people who have the following interests: reading, writing, woodworking, and connecting with nature. Offerman finds many modern pursuits to be frivolous and doesn’t hesitate to say so, frequently.
I found the book to be very educational and laughed out loud in many places. I also re-wound some segments so I could write down a few quotes in my phone. Then I bought one of Wendell Berry’s books, and added some movies he described to my Netflix queue. I could have done without some of the crude jokes but hey… nobody is perfect. For one man’s candid and funny take on men and women who live(d) with courage and gumption, you’ll definitely be left with a smile on your face. 🙂