THE SIXTIES by Edmund Wilson

THE SIXTIES

The Last Journal, 1960-1972

KIRKUS REVIEW

The last of Wilson's five volumes of journals is as entertaining and full of gossipy detail as the first four (The Fifties, 1986, etc.)--and together they form an amazing literary document of the first half of the century. A cosmopolitan intellectual, Wilson knew most of the great cultural figures of his time. The journals are a record of his travels, a compendium of personalities, and a chronicle of his sexual history. Wilson examines himself in depth but is never self- absorbed or particularly mean-spirited. The names tumble across the page: In New York, Wilson hobnobs with Stravinsky, Auden, Kenneth Tynan, and Virgil Thomson, as well as with younger friends Mike Nichols, Jason Epstein, and Penelope Gilliat. In Cambridge, Massachusetts, he socializes with Isaiah Berlin, Arthur Schlesinger, Robert Lowell, and Stuart Hughes; in Wellfleet, he parties with survivors of Cape Cod's bohemian heyday; and in his ancestral home in Talcottville, New York, he displays as much interest in local friends as in his more famous pals. During the 60's, Wilson traveled extensively, and, here, he takes notes in Canada (for his study, O Canada); in Hungary (for his interest in the language); in Israel (for writings on the Dead Sea Scrolls); and in England, France, and Italy (for enjoyment). A self-described "man of the twenties," he nevertheless is sensitive to "nuclear age jitters" and opposes the war in Vietnam. Throughout, he worries about his declining health and failing libido, but he adjusts to old age gracefully, maintaining his lifelong interest in magic and puppetry. Children bring out his best, while stupid people feed his misanthropy. Not only are the extended profiles indelible--a manic Robert Lowell; a dazzlingly witty Elaine May-- but the short-takes are unforgettable as well. Paddy Chayefsky is "cheap, conceited, and vulgar"; Tom Wolfe is a "smart-aleck jellybean"; and Susan Sontag is "pretentious." Candor and intelligence come through on every page--in this always absorbing journal by perhaps the last great man of American letters.

Pub Date: July 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-374-26554-2
Page count: 664pp
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 1993




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