1. In King of the Mississippi, Mike Freedman delivers a satire of contemporary American masculinity. What are some of the most outrageous displays of bravado that you can recall from the book? In your view, what are some of the insecurities that underpin “toxic masculinity,” as it is once termed by K.K., Brock Wharton’s wife?
2. Mike Fink’s charm and charisma, alluring to many at Cambridge Consulting Group, escapes Wharton, who is repulsed by the former Green Beret soldier. Why does Wharton so despise Fink? At base level, do you think Wharton is threatened by the descendant of the so-called “King of the Mississippi”?
3. Wharton compulsively compares himself to others to measure his self-worth, having been influenced by his father’s “eternal Socratic question for him: If being the best gives your life meaning, who are you then if you are not the best?” (page 124). What effect does living in constant competition with others have on Wharton’s happiness? Does it hold him back in any way?
4. Consider the following moment during the football game in chapter 6:
“C-C-G! C-C-G!” Carissa chanted, shaking pom-poms and her integrity.
“U-S-A!” Fink chimed in to mine the mindless patriotism that had brought him thus far.
“U-S-A! U-S-A!” cheered the CCG players.
Corporate America, Wharton thought bitterly as their chanting nationalism flagged. He needed to find a new career and maybe a new country. (page 151)
Were you surprised to see this attitude in Wharton, who was once a poster boy for corporate America and considered himself a gatekeeper to the world of consulting? How did you see his perceptions and priorities gradually change as the narrative progressed? How might Fink have been a catalyst for these changes?
5. At one moment, Wharton thinks to himself that “[a]ll of life was probably myth creation” (page 161). How do you interpret this thought? What “myths” determine the meaning or purpose of life for the characters in this book?
6. In earlier parts of King of the Mississippi, Wharton ridicules the intelligence of Fink and others who serve in the military, which he dismisses as “the last stop for the talentless” (page 12). When he travels to the Middle East, however, he encounters members of the Special Forces, including a former Goldman Sachs banker and a young Harvard graduate fluent in three languages, who “could smoke any consulting dream team in concentration of talent” (page 229). Did this novel challenge your own view of the military or your presumptions about the kinds of people who serve in it?
7. In part three of this book, how does the author paint the vested interests of Western corporate giants as contributing to the causes and even benefiting from the sustainment of conflicts in the Middle East? Why is it favorable for the likes of CCG in this book for Middle Eastern countries to “embrace capitalism”?
8. How might Freedman’s novel suggest that environmental degradation, climate change, and certain international wars may have a common root cause? What might this cause be?
9. In chapter 9, Wharton and Fink are told by Faruq Hawrami, a business owner in Kurdistan, that “the best business ethics are in making the best deal” (page 215). What does this mean? Do you think that prioritizing profit above all other considerations is, in fact, a suspension of ethics? Why or why not?
10. By the epilogue of King of the Mississippi, Wharton has formed an unlikely alliance with Fink, as the two even consider starting a new business together to compete with Cambridge Consulting Group. In the long run, how do you think their business partnership would pan out? How would their company, tentatively named CrossConsult by Fink, be different from the likes of CCG?