The idea for this book seems to spring from the hypocrisy of the conservative right wing’s rigid obsession with the literal translation of the Constitution, while at the same time viciously condemning certain people’s ideas of their own personal pursuit of happiness. Dan offers that one man’s sin is another’s path to happiness. He delves headfirst into each sin by examining a social activity that revels within it: to study greed he heads to Las Vegas; lust leads him to the Lifestyles Convention, a national meet-up for swingers.
What makes Dan such an effective social commentator is not just his quick wit, but his ability to combine human compassion with pointed, unrelenting rational argumentation. Skipping towards Gomorrah is not sentimental, even though it is grounded in personal context.
Each section is introduced by cultural context and Dan’s own struggles—or revelries—surrounding the specific sin. It’s taken further into the concrete and specific by focusing on only a few people Dan meets at each location. The only deviation from this style seems to be in the chapter on Envy. Dan travels to an elite weight-loss resort and his reflections here seem detached from the people in his group. The people he meets are caricatures. In contrast, at the swingers’ convention he focuses mainly on one married, deeply religious Jewish couple. His interviews with them are insightful and moving. But perhaps this contrast isn’t a fault but a glaring symptom of the mind one must possess to pay thousands of dollars in the purchase of poverty as a status symbol. (The participants stay five to a room in a run-down hotel and just hike all day, every day, for three weeks). Pick this book up. It is thought provoking and hilarious. –Katie Dunne (Plume, 375 Hudson St., NYC, NY 10014)