PJ O’Rourke
© Camera Press

PJ O’Rourke, 66, is an American satirist, journalist and author. His books include Republican Party Reptile, Parliament of Whores and Give War a Chance.

What was your earliest ambition?

To not grow up; unrealised, not for lack of trying.

Public school or state school? University or straight into work?

The local grade school and high school, and the state university: Miami of Ohio. I was an English major – I saw English and thought, “I speak that!” I went on to graduate school at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore. By the end of college, I thought, “I’ve done all this reading, I must know how to write” – I was quite wrong.

Who was your mentor?

The mentor relationship always seems to go sour. Authors such as Saki, Evelyn Waugh, Robert Benchley, Ogden Nash and Thurber were my mentors. There was never a fraught relationship because they were dead.

How physically fit are you?

I drink, I smoke cigars, my idea of exercise is getting up at 3am to go to the bathroom. But I live in the country on a farm, there’s a tremendous amount of work, so I’m in reasonable shape. I can still ski faster than my skill allows.

Ambition or talent: which matters more to success?

It must be ambition, or we wouldn’t have the horrid, talentless successes that we see the world filled with. Particularly in politics.

Have you ever taken an IQ test?

I must have done. I came of age during the rage for standardised testing of children. I have no idea what my score was or any desire to find out.

How politically committed are you?

Very: but sometimes mystified as to what I’m committed to. I’m a classical libertarian but also a Burkean pessimist, which keeps me on the conservative side. Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.

Do you consider your carbon footprint?

We’ve got a 280-acre tree farm so I suppose that’s one up for us. But we also have lots of motor vehicles.

Do you have more than one home?


What would you like to own that you don’t currently possess?

A matched pair of 12-gauge Purdey shotguns and pheasants enough to justify their possession.

Purdey shotgun
Would like to own: a pair of Purdey shotguns © Rory Dennis

What’s your biggest extravagance?

Motor vehicles, dogs and children, not necessarily in that order. We have, at last count, seven vehicles, four dogs and three children.

In what place are you happiest?


What ambitions do you still have?

To keep the seven vehicles running, keep the four dogs running and put the three children through school.

What drives you on?

Dr Johnson put it more elegantly but, in a word, poverty.

What is the greatest achievement of your life so far?

If you don’t say your marriage and your children you go straight to spousal and parental hell.

What has been your greatest disappointment?

My parents died much too young.

If your 20-year-old self could see you now, what would he think?

He wouldn’t notice me. I’d just be another old, hopeless square.

Rob Reiner and Christopher Guest in 'This Is Spinal Tap' (1984)
Life, out of 10: as inspired by Spinal Tap – “Turn it up to 11” © Capital Pictures

If you lost everything tomorrow, what would you do?

Since there’s only one thing I know how to do, I would try and find some kind of writing that paid something.

Do you believe in assisted suicide?

Not so that I’d like to have my wife and children hear me say so. I don’t want to put ideas in anybody’s head.

Do you believe in an afterlife?

I do. I fall back on that Rupert Brooke poem, “Heaven”: “And in that Heaven of all their wish/There shall be no more land, say fish.”

If you had to rate your life so far, out of 10, what would you score?

I have to go with Christopher Guest in This is Spinal Tap: “Turn it up to 11.”


‘The Baby Boom: How It Got That Way . . . And It Wasn’t My Fault . . . And I’ll Never Do It Again’, by PJ O’Rourke, is published by Grove Press UK, £16.99

Photographs: Camera Press; Capital Pictures

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