Shehryar Fazli in the Los Angeles Review of Books:
It’s worth starting with a few words about the recent controversy around Taibbi, related to a 2000 memoir, The eXile: Sex, Drugs, and Libel in the New Russia, he co-wrote with Mark Ames about their time editing an alt-weekly in Moscow during the 1990s. In one chapter, Ames described sexual harassment of female colleagues, which in the wake of the Weinstein affair has provoked fresh debate about Taibbi’s past conduct. In a late October Facebook post, after he faced questions about this while promoting the current book, Taibbi acknowledged that the behavior described in The eXile was “reprehensible” but also fictional, and denied having made “advances or sexually suggestive comments to any co-worker in any office, here or in Russia.” He said the memoir “was conceived as a giant satire” about Americans in post-Soviet Russia: “In my younger mind this sounded like a good idea, a cross of Andrew Dice Clay, The Ugly American and Charlie Hebdo. But in practice it was often stupid, cruel, gratuitous and mean-spirited.” To my knowledge, no one has accused either Taibbi or Ames of harassment.1
Taibbi’s career since The eXile has not been without controversy — a satirical 2005 New York Press essay titled “The 52 Funniest Things About the Upcoming Death of the Pope” led to his editor being fired — but in the process he’s also become the angry and eloquent writer these times need. His penchant for burlesque, like that of his Rolling Stone predecessor Hunter S. Thompson, is grounded in contempt at ruling classes and structures. Like Thompson, he can turn this contempt into powerful and elegant prose. His July 2009 essay, “The Great American Bubble Machine,” in which he memorably described Goldman Sachs as “a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money,” expanded our vocabulary for the Great Recession.