The Moral Baby
March 14, 2005
Wodehouse: A Life By Robert McCrum (W.W. Norton, 530 pp., $27.95) I.Deliberately unserious writers are very rare in literature; even most children's books are dark with agenda. Sheer play is much rarer than great seriousness, for nonsense demands from most of us an unlearning of adult lessons, a return to childhood--which anyway, being a return, lacks childhood's innocent originality. P.G. Wodehouse, who was always described by those who knew him best as an arrested schoolboy, must be the gentlest, most playful comedian in the English novel.
The End of the Affair
January 24, 2005
The Life of Graham Greene Volume III: 1955-1991 By Norman Sherry (Viking, 906 pp., $39.95) I. In William Golding's wittily acerbic novel The Paper Men, the famous English novelist Wilfred Barclay is doggedly pursued by a young American professor of English, Rick L. Tucker, who sees him as the perfect vehicle for the creation of a dazzling academic career. From party to party, from country to country, impervious to rebuffs, irrepressible and indefatigable, Tucker stalks his quarry.
January 24, 2005
Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking By Malcolm Gladwell (Little, Brown, 277 pp., $25.95) There are two types of thinking, to oversimplify grossly. We may call them intuitive and articulate. The first is the domain of hunches, snap judgments, emotional reactions, and first impressions—in short, instant responses to sensations. Obviously there is a cognitive process involved in such mental processes; one is responding to information. But there is no conscious thought, because there is no time for it.
Beautiful as He Did It
December 20, 2004
ELECTED FRIENDS: ROBERT FROST AND EDWARD THOMAS TO ONE ANOTHER Edited and with an introduction by Matthew Spencer (Handsel Books, 216 pp., $24) I. I. For two poets, two facial expressions. One is simple enough: the blankness with which I, as a graduate student, and every one of the thousand or so graduate students I have taught, first received the words "Edward Thomas." Since this is wrong, and dismaying, I try to have some fun with it.
The End of an Elite
June 07, 2004
The Guardians: Kingman Brewster, His Circle, and the Rise of the Liberal Establishment By Geoffrey Kabaservice (Henry Holt, 573 pp., $30) The commitment of America's great universities to admitting students on the basis of merit rather than lineage--whether or not that commitment is wholly observed in practice--is today virtually uncontested. Similarly, the belief in the value of diversity, while under assault in courts and legislatures, is a core conviction of almost all educators.
The Details of Greatness
March 29, 2004
"Negro President": Jefferson and the Slave PowerBy Garry Wills(Houghton Mifflin, 274 pp., $25)An Imperfect God:George Washington, His Slaves, and the Creation of AmericaBy Henry Wiencek(Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 404 pp., $26)In 1839, Thomas Morris, a radical Jacksonian senator from Ohio, took aim at John C. Calhoun, the Southern slaveocracy, and their timid Northern appeasers from both national parties, and coined a new phrase. "The slave power of the South and the banking power of the North ... are now uniting to rule the country," Morris told the Senate.
May 05, 2003
Silence on the Mountain: Stories of Terror, Betrayal, and Forgetting in Guatemala By Daniel Wilkinson (Houghton Mifflin, 373 pp., $24) In September, a Guatemalan court convicted an army colonel of ordering the assassination of one of my colleagues, the anthropologist Myrna Mack. Mack had been interviewing victims of counterinsurgency operations when she was knifed to death on a busy afternoon street in Guatemala City. Colonel Juan Valencia Osorio worked for the presidential security staff.
April 21, 2003
The Victorians By A.N.Wilson (W.W. Norton, 544 pp., $35) A.N. Wilson is a clever and versatile man. He is the author of a dozen novels, variable in quality, the best of which are amusing and skillfully constructed, but with an undertone of moral seriousness, lightly camp but oddly touching. He is a prolific newspaper columnist in Britain.
April 21, 2003
The Palestinian People: A History By Baruch Kimmerling and Joel S.
June 24, 2002
Varieties of Religion Today: William James Revisited by Charles Taylor (Harvard University Press, 127 pp., $19.95) The recent blizzard of pragmatism has produced many discussions about William James, but there is one side of James that has been almost programmatically neglected. It is a side of James that James himself cherished, and it provides the great reason for so much of what he wrote, for so much of his philosophical pluralism, and for his campaign against idealism.