Unrig: How To Fix Our Broken Democracy, by Daniel G. Newman, illustrated by George O’Connor


 Unrig: How To Fix Our Broken Democracy by Daniel G. Newman, illustrated by George O’Connor, First Second, 9781250295309, 2020 

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 4

Format: Hardcover graphic nonfiction

Genre: nonfiction

What did you like about the book?  This graphic novel by Daniel G. Newman is a manifesto about how big money has corrupted the American political system and rigged the system against populist change. Newman is the founder of MapLight, a nonprofit dedicated to collecting and disseminating data to show patterns of influence in our election process. He’s the main character, always identifiable in his blue plaid shirt and Dockers as he walks through a first-person narrative of how things got this way, how wealth hoarders protect their own interests, how the disenfranchisement of some voters is disproportionate (the poor, people of color, students, ex-felons, etc.) and leads to more conservative outcomes, and what we should do to change things. The language is crisp and accessible; expressed in light yellow talk bubbles, the book’s design is exceptional, with clear use of headings and page breaks to help guide the reader through complicated explanations and arguments. Extensive end-notes provide sources and an index makes it easy to look for specific passages.

The illustrations, predominantly in pale blue, green, and red, range from representational to metaphorical. As Newman walks through working class neighborhoods or introduces us to progressive activists, the drawings are conventional, but as he switches gears to describe the Koch brothers (for example), O’Connor plugs in a giant, writhing black octopus. He also frequently employs sarcastic humor: when the Supreme Court under Justice Roberts declaws the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder in 2013, Roberts is shown ripping off Justice’s shield, leaving her exposed and topless.  Gerrymander is an evil dragon, built from a stack of unrelated voting districts. Students interested in political cartooning could have a field day using this as a mentor text.

Anything you didn’t like about it? It’s very topical. Especially given that libraries are currently either closed or patrons have limited time to browse, many may not stumble across this book in time for the upcoming elections. Newman and MapLight are in this for the long haul and the book does include a fair amount of political history, so hopefully the contents will remain relevant for a while. Although I really appreciate the effort that went into packaging this information as a graphic novel, it remains to be seen if that’s the most effective way to target younger readers. 

To whom would you recommend this book?  High school students and adults interested in the topic. It’s engaging and timely, if a bit dense. Sections could be very useful for U.S. history or government classes.

Who should buy this book? High schools and public libraries. First Second is producing a whole series called World Citizen Comics, which also includes Fault Lines in the Constitution and What Unites Us.

Where would you shelve it? 323.042, but I would recommend keeping it out on display as much as possible.

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? If you’re interested, now’s the time to read it!

Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA

Date of review: August 7, 2020

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