Free Dakota by William Irwin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
A quick, engaging read about an imagined secession movement in North Dakota. I sped through it and enjoyed it. Irwin does a great job of discussing political ideas in plain language and without jargon. This is also a hallmark of his non-fiction philosophic writing, in particular the pop culture and philosophy works which, like the novel, are able to make complex ideas clear and simply without simplifying them.
I enjoyed the many allusions and homages to other libertarian thinkers and works.
Nevertheless, this is Irwin’s first novel and it shows at times. The characters could have been developed more and the plot more subtle and integrated. It took a little bit for the book to get going. The political philosophy might have been interwoven more into the plot and so rather than merely having characters discussing the ideas about liberty and secession, the ideas could have been concretized in the action of the story. There is some of that, especially as the book goes on, but not enough and to many will come over as too talk-y. My biggest criticism is that there was more on the “tell me” side of the old writer’s saw “show me don’t tell me.” I don’t think Irwin wanted to write a 1000-page tome, but this could have been a few hundred pages longer so that he could have developed the detail in the character and the plot that would have made the book better and more compelling.
I would certainly recommend this book to those interested in political ideas, especially libertarianism. Lastly, I would love to read a sequel and learn about how things go forward given the ending.
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