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THE O'REILLY FACTOR CHARMS AND DISARMS

A mix of autobiography and political commentary works.

Bill O'Reilly is one of those guys who can clear a room. You either love him or loathe him - and, in a way, that's a compliment. Nobody is wishy-washy on the subject of O'Reilly. He used the pulpit of his Fox News program to become America's No. 1 bloviator (his term), and he polarizes people.

So if you're a fan, you'll enjoy this book. If you're not, you probably won't even open it - and that's too bad. A Bold Fresh Piece of Humanity is a uniquely charming blend of autobiography and political commentary.

O'Reilly uses the prism of his Catholic school education in the 1950s and '60s as a window on his life. We watch the precocious and too-big-for-his-britches kid slowly mature into the Great Bloviator. The book is quite a lot of fun to read.

O'Reilly's story is similar to that of another famous parochial school graduate, George Carlin. Few people tell jokes or spin stories as well as Carlin did, and O'Reilly doesn't even try. But his memories are as warm as those in-the-marrow reminiscences of Carlin.

O'Reilly uses lessons learned in school as springboards to the lesson's application in his adult life. He also reminds us of how character is formed and cemented in childhood. On his eighth-grade report card, Sister Mary Martin wrote "socializes quite freely yet resents correction." She had him pegged, O'Reilly writes. "Pithy and accurate."

The title comes from a nun who regarded the boy's mixture of impudence and charm and sought to bring him up with this rebuke: "William, you are a bold, fresh piece of humanity."

The book is not just fond memories. O'Reilly discusses the sex scandals that have rocked his church and what he sees as a decline in morals. But this isn't preaching; it's simply one guy's journey to adulthood. Whether you happen to like the guy or not, A Bold Fresh Piece of Humanity is an engaging, instructive memoir.

William McKeen teaches journalism at the University of Florida.

A Bold Fresh Piece of Humanity

By Bill O'Reilly

Broadway Books, 256 pages, $26

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