Best nominal phrase ever

Since I’m on the topic of my research I feel compelled to share this sentence with youse lot:

    Since his days in the state senate before World War I, and culminating in an explosive controversy involving Jimmy Walker, the flamboyantly corrupt mayor of New York during FDR’s governorship, Roosevelt’s political nemesis in state politics had been Tammany Hall, the ultimate, ball-jointed, air-cushioned, precision-tooled, thousand-kilowatt urban political machine.

Ultimate, ball-jointed, air-cushioned, precision-tooled, thousand-kilowatt urban political machine. Does that nominal phrase not fill your heart with joy? It does mine. I am imagining a ginormous Heath Robinson steampunk-like contraption wandering the streets of New York City demanding bribes, fixing potholes, and handing out bread, all the while puffing heavily on a cigar, and railing against the Governor.

That lovely phrase and, indeed, the whole sentence comes from David M. Kennedy’s Freedom From Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945, which, thus far is my favourite non-fiction tome on the 1930s. As you can see, Kennedy has a delicious turn of phrase and a gift for communicating extremely complex ideas clearly and concisely. Concise may be an odd word to use for a book that is close to a thousand pages long, but trust me, it is the correct one. If you’re interested in that period I strongly recommend Kennedy’s book.

Sometimes I’m so deep in this research that I’m a little startled to realise that we’re not in a depression, there aren’t lots of wars in progress all over, the car industry isn’t in trouble, and there aren’t banks collapsing all around us.

Oh. Wait.

Never mind . . .


  1. Eric Luper on #

    Justine, if you want to learn about political machines, read about Albany NY. I’m proud to say I live in a city with what is consider THE textbook political machine. Read all about it here:

    I married into a family with deep ties to the old machine (it is really no longer operates) and my understanding is that this article casts it in a GOOD light!

  2. Kylie on #

    Unfortunately, my American history WIP is twenties, not thirties; otherwise, that book sounds like it is actually delightfully amusing. I wish books still had phrases like that. I would pick up non-fiction more often.

    I thought of you and your blog and your obsession with cricket when I read this, but did you hear about the Sri Lankan cricket team getting attacked in Pakistan? You can find articles about it on BBC News probably, but I was stunned.

  3. Malcolm Tredinnick on #

    Did you just, in passing, introduce a whole bunch of YA American readers to W. Heath Robinson? Excellent.

    Favourite. Book. Of. Illustrations. Ever. (when I was in high school).

  4. Liviania on #

    I loved learning about Tammany Hall in school. It’s one of those things you know exists but they don’t actually *teach* it until high school.

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