A collection of (mostly) recent essays that range in focus from moral philosophy to American history to book reviews to op-ed.
New York Review of Books contributor Bromwich (English/Yale Univ.; Skeptical Music: Essays on Modern Poetry, 2001, etc.) begins with some scholarly essays addressed to a scholarly audience, but in his final section, he offers a collection of pieces—liberal in politics (anti–Bush/Cheney, anti-war, pro–Edward Snowden)—aimed at more general readers. Some heroes emerge in the early essays, among them Abraham Lincoln (“Hatred of violence and love of liberty are clues to Lincoln’s political character”), Martin Luther King Jr., Ralph Waldo Emerson and Walt Whitman. The author argues that a moral person must have imagination, especially to see the needs of strangers as clearly as the needs of friends. One particularly strong piece (“The American Psychosis,” 2002) views Emerson as a “moral psychologist” and has kind and erudite words for Henry James’ “The Jolly Corner” and Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man Is Hard to Find.” Bromwich follows that with a sharp piece about Americans’ obsession with celebrity and finds useful illustrations in the work of James, Nathanael West, Franz Kafka and others. In another piece, he chides Americans for self-delusion (we fail to see our own violence, imperialism and hypocrisy). In a review of Terry Eagleton’s Holy Terror (2005), Bromwich notes that terrorism and war are on the same continuum and observes, “Man is a self-justifying animal.” The final pieces blast the war in Iraq, the privatization of the military (Blackwater, etc.), the writing of William Safire, the government’s employment of euphemism and the disappointing failure of Barack Obama to control the excesses of the National Security Agency. The author sees Snowden as a hero of sorts, manifestly not a traitor.
Bibliophiles, scholars and concerned citizens—all will find provocation and enlightenment here.