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the Complete Review
the complete review - non-fiction


What Happened Here

Eliot Weinberger

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase What Happened Here

Title: What Happened Here
Author: Eliot Weinberger
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: 2005
Length: 182 pages
Availability: What Happened Here - US
What Happened Here - UK
What Happened Here - Canada
  • Bush Chronicles
  • Includes the entire text previously published as 9/12
  • Includes The City of Peace, previously published in Outside Stories
  • Some of the contents are available online, most notably What I Heard about Iraq in the London Review of Books
  • What I Heard about Iraq is also available separately in book form in the UK; see the Verso publicity page or get your copy at Amazon.co.uk

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Our Assessment:

B+ : useful perspective, some very powerful pieces

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Bookforum A 10-11/2005 David Levi Strauss
The LA Times . 9/10/2005 Susan Salter Reynolds

  From the Reviews:
  • "In this trenchant little book, Eliot Weinberger tells the story of the second Bush administration in such a direct, unadorned, and measured way that the accumulated facts and their catastrophic effects build up slowly and break upon us like waves onto a shipwreck." - David Levi Strauss, Bookforum

  • "Weinberger's incredulity continues and provides, in many ways, the lightest note in a highly critical collection written to appall and awaken his readers." - Susan Salter Reynolds, The Los Angeles Times

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The first part of What Happened Here, chapters describing New York on the day after, three weeks after, etc. ("after" referring to 11 September 2001), has been previously available in (conveniently and attractively pamphlet-sized) book form, in the marvellous Prickly Paradigm Press series, as 9/12 (see our review). This remains among the most significant literary takes on the events of 11 September and after to date (and one hopes it will reach a wider audience in this format).
       What Happened Here essentially continues the story, Weinberger continuing his efforts to describe the state of America under the jr. Bush administration (or the Bush junta, as he likes to call it) to foreign audiences. ("These essays were written for publication abroad", he notes, but in condensing the doings of specifically the jr. Bush administration (as well the Republicans more generally) they are useful summary-accounts and analyses that deserve a large American readership as well.)
       Weinberger tackles Bush the (non-)poet, describing the infamous verses Laura Bush claimed he had penned for her (and then admitted he hadn't), answers general questions about the state of the country two years after 11 September, and offers similar short discussions of aspects of what the jr. Bush administration has wrought. All these pieces are entertaining, though in some of the shorter opinion-piece-like ones there's perhaps a bit too much over-simplification. At the very least, however, he brings up points that should be food for thought.
       The stark black-and-white painting is certainly effective, if not always entirely fair (or, ultimately, useful). While it may be true that, at this time, for example: "Anti-Americanism today is really anti-Bushism" (a fact that is, indeed, too little focussed upon, especially in the American press), it conveniently ignores the fact that even before and after the jr. Bush anti-Americanism (of, admittedly, a slightly different strain) was and likely will remain widespread. And while it's nicely expressed, it's surely also just too simplistic to say:

Half of America is clearly deranged, and it has driven the other half mad.
       Though he often makes a good case in the opinion pieces, the most powerful of Weinberger's pieces are the ones most solidly grounded in fact. "A Few Facts & Questions" -- which still manages to be quite polemical -- makes a stronger case than most opinion pieces (though some of the 'facts' and interpretations will be decried by jr. Bush-partisans), and "Republicans: A Prose Poem" devastatingly and simply shows the many errors of their ways (though in all fairness a similar prose-poem ridiculing fringe-Democrats could be assembled almost as easily).
       By far the strongest piece in the book is "What I Heard about Iraq" (first printed in the London Review of Books and available online there), a devastating chronicle of the changing story of the administration regarding the war in Iraq. Quote after quote, fact after fact, essentially everything the jr. Bush administration has claimed is shown to unravel here.
       Weinberger's positions -- that Osama bin Laden is simply a thug and that the jr. Bush administration's making a war out of the events of 11 September (especially a war against Iraq) was an over-reaction and mistake (for the country, though perhaps not for them), the widespread dishonesty of the administration, how the jr. Bush (and Republicans generally) have used the fear of terrorism (and misplaced notions of 'patriotism') to consolidate power despite otherwise implementing widely unpopular policies -- certainly deserve attention, and, especially when he focusses on the facts, Weinberger makes an often compelling case.
       What Happened Here is worth reading for "What I Heard about Iraq" alone, but the entire collection is of interest and considerable power. Some of the simplistic statements might tempt some to dismiss it all as a liberal's tirade, but there are too many ugly and unadulterated facts for even the most ardent supporters of the administration to ignore.
       An impressive (and appalling) chronicle of the jr. Bush years.

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What Happened Here: Reviews: Eliot Weinberger: Other books by Eliot Weinberger under review: Other books translated and/or edited by Weinberger under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       American essayist and translator Eliot Weinberger has published several collections of non-fiction and translated the works of numerous (mainly Latin American) authors -- notably those of Octavio Paz.

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© 2005-2016 the complete review

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