In Booky Wook 2, the follow-up to his widely acclaimed memoir, My Booky Wook, comedian and actor Russell Brand acknowledges on the very first page that he was "born to be famous," even if it "took decades for me to convey this entitlement to an indifferent world." Being anonymous, he writes, "was an inconvenience" and a "penitentiary," and when his "years of rancid endeavor" were eventually rewarded, Brand finally felt at ease in the universe. There are people who want to change the world and who accept fame as the byproduct of achievement, and there are people who want to be on television so badly that they'll film themselves taking baths with a homeless person. Brand has typically identified himself unapologetically as the leader of the second camp, but recently he seems to have had a change of heart.
Revolution, Brand's newest book, is ostensibly a manifesto arguing for the peaceful dismantling of capitalism and the establishment of small anarcho-egalitarian communities without centralized power structures. It's been criticized for spelling out possible paths to this utopian end only in the vaguest of terms, and for getting various facts wrong, and for Brand's widely uttered admission that he doesn't vote, and thinks that anyone who does is wasting their time. He also preempts any categorization of himself as a Champagne socialist, referring to his chauffeur-driven Mercedes as "the anesthetic of privilege, the prison of comfort," and acknowledging that "now I am a tourist in poverty."
What hasn't been noted sufficiently about Revolution is that it's unreadable. Brand's narrative voice, insouciant and charmingly offensive in both Booky Wooks and various newspaper columns, is a real gift, and it appears only in glimpses here, being otherwise smothered by an invective of meaningless jargon so pompous and indecipherable that it induces headaches. "My love of God elevates the intention of this book beyond the dry and admirable establishment of collectivized communities," he writes. "I remain uncharmed by the incessant rationalization that requires the spirit's capitulation." In other words, if My Booky Wook was about how Brand found sobriety and fame, and Booky Wook 2 was about how fame helped him find a wife after having lots of fun threesomes with other famous people (he and said wife, pop star Katy Perry, have since divorced), Revolution is about how Brand found a cause after discovering that fame and threesomes aren't as fulfilling as he thought they would be. Which would be admirable, if the book was about anything other than adding another colorful feather to the magnificent plumage of Brand's ego.
Revolution, if nothing else, is a rambling illustration of the grandiosity that fame enables. It meanders in stream-of-consciousness style from statistics about inequality to quotes from Brand's friends to unwieldy analyses of the modern world to stories about the time the author was in the back of a limousine with Tom Cruise. In chapters 18 and 19, Brand introduces first Noam Chomsky, then his friend Daniel, whom Brand quotes at insufferable length while he's tripping on hallucinogens in a wigwam in Utah (Daniel, not Chomsky). He then sets up a chapter about economist du jour Thomas Piketty ("He came round my house the other day), before ignoring Piketty altogether and going back to Daniel, whose vision of the future is the closest Revolution comes to espousing a concrete philosophy:
We can accomplish this Revolution through a collective movement of civil society that supersedes the current structure of nationstate governments and the corporate military-industrial complex. The transition is from a paradigm of competition and domination to one of symbiosis and cooperation, from greed to altruism. It begins with the realization of our shared responsibility for the future of the earth, and our inherent unity with each other and with all of life.
This is by no means the most indecipherable excerpt. Sentences are missing words, relative pronouns don't agree, and there's a disturbing section in which Brand admits that he has prophetic visions of the end of the world where the earth is cracking open and yawning "belligerent fire." In other chapters, he argues that it's time to purchase a "Fisher-Price guillotine" for Prince George, that Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne is worse than a pedophile, and that the real driving force behind ISIS is love. The women who accused Julian Assange of sexually assaulting them are perfunctorily dismissed as cogs in a machine intended to bring the Wikileaks founder down, and although Brand doesn't go as far as calling 9/11 an inside job, he does remark that it looked a lot like a controlled demolition (he also notes casually that JFK was assassinated by the Secret Service).
In London, where Brand lives, and where inequality is a real and urgent issue, there's been speculation about his running for mayor. In Revolution, he's open about his dreams of ascension. "I'll level with you," he writes. "You know me, when I started this book I really thought I might be able to write my version of, I dunno, Mein Kampf (whatever happened to that guy?) or Das Kapital … some brilliant manifesto where I would, on a wave of roaring adulation, be carried from celebrity to political office." He also fantasizes about his book enabling him to lecture Colin Powell, Jack Straw, and Barack Obama about the insanity of the Iraq War, after which Obama invites him to run America and he dissolves the nation into a federation of "fully autonomous, interconnected collectives."
This is all said ironically, Brand's defenders will argue, but it’s no funnier than the actual jokes in the book. Brand makes possibly the lamest quip of his career when he points out that Halliburton has nothing to do with Haribo, which he finds disappointing. Later, when arguing that heaven on earth is a real possibility, he misquotes Belinda Carlisle. He infantilizes the reader in a gratingly patronizing way ("Remember when that war with Iraq was on your telly?"), drops colloquial cultural references ("that misery-guts Hamlet"), and then launches into garbled sentences like this one:
If we consider humanity to be not a disparate and separate conglomeration of individuals but the temporary physical manifestation and expression of a subtler electromagnetic, microcosmic realm (thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven), like in Campbell's lightbulb allegory, then all resultant phenomena emanated from a single source, so we are all jointly responsible.
Then there are the poems. "Do a gram, drop a pill, download an app, eat some crap, get a slap, mind the gap, do a line, Instagram, little grope in a cab," is how Brand describes the behaviors we adopt to compensate for our alienation from the spiritual realm. He also riffs on the ways in which we mollify ourselves with imagined future prospects: "If I get this job, this girl, this guy, these shoes. If I pass this exam, eat this pizza, drink this booze, go on this holiday. Learn karate, learn yoga. If West Ham stays up, if my dick stays up, if I get more likes on Facebook, more fancy cookbooks, a better kitchen, cure this itching', if she stops bitchin'." Brand's love for the aforementioned West Ham football club, by the way, is described as a "totemic symbol."
It's easy enough for Brand to accuse critics of his book of trying to prop up the system that supports them, which he has done (even if his assertion that all journalists are highly paid and privately educated is a dubious one). As he sees it, he's rejecting fame and fortune to follow a nobler cause, one in which every person is equal, there are no nations, and people are persuaded not to hurt each other through the redeeming power of love (literally the book's last word).
He's right that rising inequality is a serious problem that badly needs to be addressed, and he’s also right when he says that any revolution must be non-violent, jokes about killing baby princes aside. But his profession to speak for everyone is megalomaniacal; his facts are spotty and ill-sourced (the ex-Independent columnist Johann Hari was his researcher, although Brand frequently tells the reader to Google things themselves because he can't be bothered), his tone is schizophrenic, and his characteristic lack of humility is at odds with every principle the book espouses—something Brand himself admits when he recalls the chaos that ensued the one time he tried to participate in an egalitarian experiment with artist Shepard Fairey in a mall in Beverly Hills. "I was completely incapable of behaving in the Zen and nonjudgmental manner that the experiment demanded," he writes. "It brought out the very worst in me."
Revolution preaches but doesn’t practice. There's a reason Brand’s most recent standup show is called “Messiah Complex.” He has the zeal of the missionary and the charisma of the cult leader, along with a newfound commitment to imposing his vision upon society through deliberately undemocratic means. If he ever figures out how to communicate that vision in a less abstract and imperious way he could indeed change the world, although for better or for worse is anyone’s guess.
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