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CULTURAL AMNESIA

NECESSARY MEMORIES FROM HISTORY AND THE ARTS

Exemplary cogitations without a trace of jargon or better-read-than-thou condescension.

The humanities are everywhere, but humanism is at a premium. So observes British writer and television personality James (As of This Writing, 2003, etc.) in this collection, mixing amateurish delight and scholarly immersion in books and ideas.

It is an uncomfortable fact that a Nazi concentration-camp commander could murder the day away and then, on returning home, weep at a Brahms recording. A mere liking for books, art and music doesn’t make a person good; even Adolf Hitler thought of himself as a humanist, though, James writes, “his connection with the civilized traditions was parodic at best and neurotic always.” James adds elsewhere that the connection was more genuine than Stalin’s and Mao’s, if bested by Hitler’s comrade Goebbels, who kept a massive library and even read the books in it. Most of James’s subjects in this sprawling, sometimes impressionistic gathering of appreciations are the real deal, though. One is the largely forgotten Viennese cabaret performer Egon Friedell, who wrote a strange and centrifugal book and then committed suicide when German troops marched into Austria. Other of James’s quite diverse heroes include Albert Camus, Stefan Zweig, Ernst Robert Curtius, G.K. Chesterton, Evelyn Waugh and Dick Cavett, figures who run the range of European humanism, British traditionalism and, well, Nebraskan autodidacticism. James is keen on exploring influences; his essay on Jorge Luis Borges, for instance, draws in the Romanian philosopher E.M. Cioran, who admired Borges’s “world citizenship” and refusal to belong to any club that would have him as a member. (Cioran’s affiliations included the fascist Iron Guard.) James inclines to conservatism, but definitely not reaction; he admires thinkers such as the anticommunist stalwart Jean-François Revel, who “has a lively appreciation of how people can get stuck with a view because it has become their identity,” and he urges the view, quite humane, that humanism is closely bound up with ideals of freedom.

Exemplary cogitations without a trace of jargon or better-read-than-thou condescension.

Pub Date: March 19, 2007

ISBN: 0-393-06116-7

Page Count: 768

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2006

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THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE

50TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION

Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis...

Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.

Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").

Pub Date: May 15, 1972

ISBN: 0205632645

Page Count: 105

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1972

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NUTCRACKER

This is not the Nutcracker sweet, as passed on by Tchaikovsky and Marius Petipa. No, this is the original Hoffmann tale of 1816, in which the froth of Christmas revelry occasionally parts to let the dark underside of childhood fantasies and fears peek through. The boundaries between dream and reality fade, just as Godfather Drosselmeier, the Nutcracker's creator, is seen as alternately sinister and jolly. And Italian artist Roberto Innocenti gives an errily realistic air to Marie's dreams, in richly detailed illustrations touched by a mysterious light. A beautiful version of this classic tale, which will captivate adults and children alike. (Nutcracker; $35.00; Oct. 28, 1996; 136 pp.; 0-15-100227-4)

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 1996

ISBN: 0-15-100227-4

Page Count: 136

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996

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