A BOLD FRESH PIECE OF HUMANITY
By Bill O’Reilly
Random House, $26, 256 pages
REVIEWED BY GRACE VUOTO
“A Bold Fresh Piece of Humanity,” will satisfy the curiosity of anyone who ever wondered what it would be like to spend time in private conversation with Bill O’Reilly. The book provides a window into the core convictions of Fox News’ most well-known personality, the host of “The O’Reilly Factor.” The tract is written in an informal, conversational and direct manner; it is like sharing a cup of coffee with a friendly uncle who is giving advice based on his life. Mr. O’Reilly provides much wit and humor, many amusing stories and moving passages full of wisdom. Indeed, this little book is bold, fresh and calls forth the better springs of human nature.
Mr. O’Reilly reveals “what makes him tick,” to use a phrase he would approve of, as one with working-class roots and who refused, regardless of how successful he became, to remove the “edges” from his personality. He was shaped predominantly by three factors: His father, whom he both admired and sought to transcend; the Catholicism that was transmitted to him by his mother and the nuns at his elementary school, St. Brigid’s in Westbury, N.Y.; and the working-class neighborhood of Levittown, Long Island, N.Y., in which he played sports, made mischief and forged bonds of lasting friendship.
Along the way, Mr. O’Reilly takes us on a journey through history. The backdrop of this story is the changing face of America — from the fear and anxiety of the Great Depression, the stability of the 1950s, the turbulence of the 1960s, and the materialism, nihilism and greed of the last few decades. Although Mr. O’Reilly does not say so explicitly, the book shows that values taken for granted during his childhood are far better than today’s permissive counterparts. Mr. O’Reilly claims to dislike moralizing. Yet “A Bold Fresh Piece of Humanity” is essentially an injunction to spend one’s life in noble pursuits for the benefit of others: “[T]he person who makes things better in this world will not be easily forgotten; his or her legacy will likely carry on. The good that you do in this life remains in the world.”
Mr. O’Reilly, a best-selling author, has the uncanny ability to paint a vivid portrait. He describes his father as a practical man of few words who lived his life gripped with fear. Having experienced the scarcity and poverty of the Great Depression, he clung to his job as a money changer for an oil company, regardless of how much he disliked it. On his deathbed, Mr. O’Reilly’s father recommended taking risks, rather than following his cautious example. If today the Fox News host is bold and combative on a daily basis, it is likely because he lives with less hesitation than his father did.
Mr. O’Reilly also expresses much fondness for his father’s pragmatic wisdom. Although he was not highly politically engaged, it was his father who transmitted the conservative philosophy Mr. O’Reilly would later champion. The cornerstones of this are twofold. Politics is choosing among lesser evils; hence, politics should not be invested with high expectations. Also, judgments should be based on independent thought and research. This strengthens one’s position in debate.
Mr. O’Reilly is also a practicing Catholic. He was profoundly marked by the nuns who gave him an education at St. Brigid’s. However, his teachers could occasionally be strict and unfair. Indeed, Sister Laruna in scolding Mr. O’Reilly in the third grade referred to him “as a bold fresh piece of humanity.” Yet, he wholeheartedly adopted the Catholic faith they taught and recognizes the nun’s influence as essential to his formation. His faith inspires his work. “I am on a mission,” he writes, “and it all started in the first grade.”
At the very heart of Mr. O’Reilly’s persona is an appreciation for the “folks” — the hard-working men and women whom he sees as the backbone of America. In his working-class neighborhood of Levittown, he lived in the moment: The events and personalities of his youth left an indelible mark. He still regularly enjoys the company of childhood friends whom he regards as essential to his happiness and to keeping him grounded. In June, 1988 he even organized a class reunion in for his St. Brigid’s classmates. He eloquently explains that in elementary school, “we all had absorbed something that cannot be taught; we had learned the value of one another.” Thus, Mr. O’Reilly champions community and readers gain an insight: His television program is essentially one in which he tries to recreate a neighborhood, writ large. He presents himself as the champion of the “folks” against the corruption and greed of the powerful.
“A Bold Fresh Piece of Humanity” also reveals Mr. O’Reilly’s flaws. As is evident throughout, Mr. O’Reilly is incorrigibly egocentric. As he readily admits, he suffers from bouts of bad temper and impatience. His “tough guy” persona can be grating. He is a “guy’s guy” — with all the freshness and immaturity that can imply.
There are omissions, too. His relationships with women, apart from references to his mother and the nuns, are largely unmentioned. He is silent about his marriage and children. Readers are left to wonder to what extent the traditional values he champions pervade his personal and family life. In this respect, the book is incomplete.
Nonetheless, there are many treasures here. The loud-mouthed individual that appears so confident, combative, brash and bold every night on “The O’Reilly Factor,” is also reflective, warm and driven by a sincere zeal for justice. At his core, he stands for a free, small-government America with citizens that have faith, are self-reliant, work hard and are rooted in their community. The book is a moving testament to those values.
• Grace Vuoto is an editorial writer for The Washington Times. The opinions expressed are her own.
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