Dishonesty is the Second-Best Policy: And Other Rules to Live By

by David Mitchell

Rating: ★★★★

Opinion columns for The Observer, ranging across the usual set of current affairs and personal observations, but most closely circling British politics of the last four years.

Mitchell is obviously used to working with words, and his pieces are excellent writing of the sort that often goes under-appreciated -- too much of a sprint next to the memoirist's personal novel, and without any overarching argument to make into a nonfiction book of any other sort. They really are well-crafted, though, something which is only made more enjoyable by Mitchell's self-critical rambling, ability to draw fine distinctions, and willingness to apologise for all of that with some silly wordplay.

His actual opinions are for the most part demographically predictable -- he is a middle-class British person in the media business, and in some ways Mitchell could be considered the reference implementation of that class, complete with fully-charged agnosticism batteries. But he wins respect in my book for the sort of basic intellectual honesty which seems so rare in anyone 'from the telly'. He takes propositions at least somewhat seriously, examines his own biases, and is actually willing to publicly defend people he hates when he finds a criticism of them to be unfair. I want more people like this cycling through our public discourse.

The articles are all entertaining, but Mitchell is probably at his best when he gets angry. His 'rants' are a highlight of his persona on talk shows (though they are, if you want to call them rants, extremely lucid and insightful ones), and the same seems to be true for his written work. His voice comes across especially well on the page when he is tearing down something stupid, and thankfully he is swamped for material.