Saul Bellow: Letters Edited by Benjamin Taylor (Viking, 571 pp., $35) How easy it is, and plausible, to regard a collection of letters spanning youth and old age as an approximation of autobiography: the procession of denizens who inhabit a life, the bit players with their entrances and exits, the faithful chronology of incidents—all turn up reliably in either form, whether dated and posted or backward-looking. Yet autobiography, even when ostensibly steeped in candor, tends toward reconsideration—if not revisionary paperings-over, then late perspectives, afterwords, and second thoughts.
Hope in a Scattering Time: A Life of Christopher Lasch By Eric Miller (Eerdmans, 394 pp., $32) In a moving tribute to Christopher Lasch written shortly after his death in 1994, Dale Vree, a Catholic convert and the editor of the New Oxford Review, wrote that “Calvinism was his true theological inspiration.” Lasch was certainly not one of the faithful.
Every now and then a piece of writing captures the mood of the moment and the essence of an ideology so completely that it warrants special attention. This is certainly the case with “An Exceptional Debate: The Obama Administration’s Assault on American Identity,” an essay (and cover story) by Richard Lowry and Ramesh Ponnuru in the March 8 issue of National Review. Lowry and Ponnuru’s thesis—that President Obama is an enemy of “American exceptionalism”—is hardly original.
Reading Leo Strauss: Politics, Philosophy, Judaism By Steven B. Smith (University of Chicago Press, 256 pp., $32.50) Leo Strauss and the Theologico-Political Problem By Heinrich Meier (Cambridge University Press, 183 pp., $60) I. Of the many emigre scholars to leave a mark on American intellectual life in the latter half of the twentieth century, none has sparked greater controversy than Leo Strauss. In the years since his death, in 1973, he has repeatedly been accused of exercising a sinister influence on the country.