As soon as I was finished with Fast Food Nation I wanted to pass along the book to everyone I knew. And give them a chance to pass it along to everyone they knew. For a time, I even had a plan in place to do just that. The household paperback copy was handed out with the instruction to lendees to print their names on the inside front cover once they’d completed it and then to pass it along to another person they thought would benefit from the information within its pages. I had visions of highly weathered copy of the book circulating for ages, a roster of the enlightened and presumably enraged inked onto it. That didn’t quite work. It went around to a few friends. Then the passion for using the book as tract against fast food industry petered out. Still, that flash of insurgency speaks to the strength of Eric Schlosser’s writing. Maybe more accurately, it’s evidence of the compelling nature of Schlosser’s thorough reporting.
Fast Food Nation is advocacy journalism, but as much as the book clearly makes its case against the dismal business practices and disregard for societal good that infest the fast food industry Schlosser is remarkably level-headed and even hopeful. He is less outraged and more exasperated, noting that the major players in the industry have the capability to effect tremendous positive change with little to no damage to their bottom lines nor undue distress to the consumers. As the recent melee of cage-free egg pledges has demonstrated, changes for the better create consumer goodwill and supplier acquiescence rather than the grossly inflated prices craven corporate leaders routinely promise in the face of supposed business hardships like regulation and, well, simply doing the right thing.
Schlosser’s 2013 nonfiction tome, Command and Control, is arguably even better, if only because it allows him to traffic in a form of aghast retrospection that is less likely to stir feelings of cultural futility. The book traces the faulty protocols that have been in place through the history of nuclear weapons in the United States, essentially repeatedly presenting a series of startling tales that make it clear its downright miraculous that there was never a true catastrophe caused by human error within the national borders. It’s a tremendous piece of scholarship, written in a gratifyingly accessible style. Schlosser is one of those reporters who understands the need to spin a compelling story, one that will provide useful, relatable context to all the damning facts. With a pending book that is the culmination of around decade’s worth of work that had it first public glimmer in an Atlantic article entitled “The Prison-Industrial Complex,” Schlosser thankfully remains committed to unearthing the aspects of United States society that teeter on the precipice of tragedy. If he keeps writing it, I’ll keep reading it.
—Doris Kearns Goodwin