I Should Be Dead: My Life Surviving Politics, TV, and Addiction by Bob Beckel with John David Mann

I Should Be Dead by Bob Beckel was only a book I picked up to further complete research on Walter Mondale, his election and gather some peripheral information on Jimmy Carter. Therefore, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this book.

Beckel gained his initial step into fame by working on the Mondale campaign which then led to TV spots. These moments would show that he was somewhat of a natural on television and he was given guest positions later on CNN’s Crossfire and occasionally filling in for Larry King, and for this reason, that’s why Beckel began wearing suspenders. In the mid to late 1990s Beckel began to disappear again until his national spotlight was given again with aid of Cal Thomas and they’d write competing ideas on the same topic in USA Today. This resurgence eventually led to Beckel’s more recent fame on Fox’s The Five where he worked for a number of years.

This is really a story about Beckel’s life and while it includes politics, it isn’t solely about that subject. He grew up in an alcoholic home. His mother, extended family and especially his father were drinkers, his father being an abusive one. He’d claim that his father was the best father anyone could have in the mornings but by night that would completely change.

In spite of his father, Beckel derived much of his political influence from the man he’d eventually chase off with a stick of wood. But his upbringing didn’t help him through life.

Beckel got heavily into alcohol and drugs, using the latter to evade the draft in Vietnam along with efforts to hide out in the Peace Corps. He details then how he eventually made it to Washington and his work on campaigns he said went well and those which went horribly wrong. Additionally, he details a number of near-death experiences.

Beckel doesn’t hide much of anything as he talks about his divorce and virtual obsession with prostitution. And he had his belief that the 2000 election was stolen, which we’ll get into in a future article.

When the book eventually goes into his time on The Five and it becomes heavily about God and his relationship with religion in the last third of the book, it really bogs down. While he doesn’t necessarily repeat himself, it does feel this way when he battles between disbelief and belief with aid of his close friend, Cal Thomas.

I Should Be Dead by Bob Beckel is a book laden with humor in spite of its dark subject matter and is an interesting view inside the life of a man who fought and overcame many of his demons. In terms of Mondale and Carter, there isn’t as much as I would’ve liked but the amount of interesting stories, such as how he told Mondale to say, “Where’s the beef?” during the Hart debate, are incredibly funny. I Should Be Dead surprised me in the best of ways, so much so that I hadn’t expected to read the entire book but I decided to anyway just because it was that good.

History in Sherman Park: An American Family and the Reagan-Mondale Election by Jonathan Schell

Elections and primaries within the United States have often interested me, especially after an article I wrote a few years ago about the 1980 Republican primary. It’s interesting to note the thought processes behind what one group does, why one person rises to the top of a party in a select time and what issues are really concerning people of the day and if they actually did buy into the media hype.

History in Sherman Park by Jonathan Schell focuses primarily on a small family unit and some extensions in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Embedding himself within this small group he was better able to understand a small family and their perspectives about the differences, likes and dislikes between Reagan and Mondale and why they would vote one way or the other.

Rather than a history book, this is more anthropological than historical even though it does provide extensive historical material. He seems to sit with two people, Gina and Bill Gapolinsky (he changed names within the book to protect them) through the election, through the debates and other issues that arose, asking them pointed, specific questions about these events and moments during the election and how those events eventually formed their final decisions.

Gina began has a hardcore Mondale supporter while her mate, Bill, seemed to be more in the Reagan camp and let himself be potentially open to shifting one way or the other. There are also other members of the family who occasionally interjected and at the end, Schell informs the reader who these people ultimately voted for.

There are a few occasions where the writing isn’t always as clear as it could be and caused confusion. The paragraphs also, at times, become blocks of information with no break in sight. However, these are the only flaws within the book.

History in Sherman Park is an excellent dive into a small area in Milwaukee during an interesting time in American politics. It is a very fair and objective view and Schell did a great job in finding a small group of people who seemingly fell along both sides of the aisle. If you have an interest in why the nation chose Reagan over Mondale, this short book could provide you the glimpse you’re looking for.