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‘This Town,’ a Decade Later

Rep. Darrell Issa and Rep. Todd Akin outside the Republican National Committee headquarters
Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images
Julia Ioffe
August 13, 2021

Mark Leibovich, my friend and fellow Odessan Jew, is the author of many wickedly insightful profiles for the New York Times and its Magazine. But it was his iconic 2013 book This Town that I think will be his lasting contribution to the cannon of American political writing. (If you haven’t read it, remediate that immediately.) I reread it recently and was again humbled by the fluency of his writing and the sharpness of his anthropological analysis, an elegant fileting of an entire social class. Revisiting the opening chapter alone—the Kennedy Center funeral of NBC anchor Tim Russert and the “power mourners” trying to keep the veil of performative grief from slipping to reveal the furious networking they were doing at the somber event—was enough to make me wonder what had delusion led me to believe that I could ever write.

I confess that, when Mark’s book first came out, I thought it was funny—I mean, what did Tammy Haddad do for a living anyway?—but mostly went over my head. I didn’t see the problem with Washington. Washington was fucking great. The book came out less than a year after I’d moved here from Moscow, where, in their admiration of American democracy, my Russian friends and colleagues helped inflate my crush on America. Seen from abroad, from a country that had dabbled with liberalization before slipping back into brute authoritarianism, America looked fantastic. Not perfect, no, but, unlike Russia, grappling with its past and striving for a more perfect union, with the nation’s first Black president moving into a White House built by slaves. Washington was the seat of that—and I was in awe of it.