American Governor

Chris Christie's Bridge to Redemption
By Matt Katz
Threshold Editions.
464 pp. $28.


nolead ends Matt Katz's hefty Chris Christie biography, American Governor, can be a bit exhausting, but it is definitely not boring.

If you have not given much thought to the New Jersey governor and Republican presidential candidate - whose popularity has been tarnished by Bridgegate, and who currently is in the low single digits in national presidential polls - American Governor might have you thinking twice.

Christie attracts powerful lauds and powerful barbs. At a Ready for Christie 2012 fund-raiser, Henry Kissinger said he had the "courage and character" that comes with being a president. In a phone conversation with a Star-Ledger editorial editor, N.J. Senate president Stephen Sweeney called Christie a "bully" and a "punk." American Governor gives us both sides: It's replete with stories of a bully with courage and character.

Katz, an award-winning former Inquirer journalist who has been covering Christie since 2011, chronicles in substantial but readable detail Christie's childhood, his college years, his family, and his rise to the New Jersey governorship in a stunning upset over incumbent Jon Corzine in 2010.

This leads to his reelection, his popularity with the Republican Party and the general votership, and to the Christie Democrats, a group of crossover voters who see him as a future president. But the 2013 Bridgegate scandal brings his rise to a screeching halt.

American Governor consists of three parts containing 16 chapters. Part three, titled "The Bridge" and consisting of 172 pages, will exhaust any reader. But Katz keeps it interesting. He has a readable style, and he deftly blends his sources.

We have news reports. We have Christie's constant interviews on conservative and liberal talk radio, television news, and late-night talk shows. We have his combative shouting matches with voters, as well as more civil chit-chat with loyal supporters. Katz has two interviews of his own with Christie, plus a variety of journalistic encounters with him. This rich but well-paced sourcing makes American Governor a lively biography.

Unlike typical biographies, which tend to be dense, uneventful, and slow, in American Governor, just about every page brims with jaw-dropping anecdotes of political intrigue, plotting and scheming the Jersey way, Christie tactics, and encounters with supporters, political enemies, bipartisan allies, and angry voters.

It is no secret that Christie, a forceful personality without a filter, is a master at the art of bullying and insulting those he views as annoying and stupid. But along with his lack of polite manners, American Governor captures how the controversial in-your-face Jersey governor gets the job done, even if it means mowing down whomever stands in his way, and excels at sparring with the best of them. He thrives on confrontation, does not forgive, and makes no apologies.

That may seem less than flattering - but American Governor also reveals the man who as U.S. attorney fought corruption, and as a twice-elected governor in a blue state mercilessly vetoed budgets and programs, rescued New Jersey from a $2.2 billion budget deficit, and whipped the teachers' unions into shape. Christie also forms unlikely alliances with enemies, and leads his state through Hurricanes Irene and Sandy.

And with self-deprecating humor about his lifelong struggle with his weight, Christie - once described as the "Pillsbury Dough Boy" in an editorial and called "Krispy Kreme" by political activists - becomes a media star and runs for president.

American Governor is filled with Christie's all-around big personality and Jersey attitude. Suffering from Trump fatigue? Bored by the presidential candidates way ahead of Christie in the polls? Elect to read American Governor.

Miriam Díaz-Gilbert is a doctoral candidate in the theology program at La Salle University.