THE STORY OF HENDRIK WILLEM VAN LOON by Gerard Willem van Loon

THE STORY OF HENDRIK WILLEM VAN LOON

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Since his death in 1944, the popularity of Hendrik Willem van Loon, prolific historical popularizer (The Fall of the Dutch Republic, The Story of Mankind, Man the Miracle Worker), friend of Roosevelt, H. L. Mencken, Sinclair Lewis, et al. has suffered an eclipse: in an age where scholarship is defined by the monograph, the works of van Loon, sweeping and grandiose, have necessarily suffered. Nor will his reputation, personal or academic, be enhanced by this scrupulously researched, painfully intimate biography by his younger son, Gerard. Batted about like a tennis ball between his Boston blueblood mother and his titanic Dutch father, the younger van Loon suffered with and through the recurrent bouts of melancholia that plagued his father between books, drove him to three fractious marriages (and innumerable incipient Mrs. van Loons), and made his two children the victims of his hypochondriacal self-deceptions, his ungovernable temper, and his restless migrations between Europe and America. As a young child Gerard saw his father as ""the villain"" pure and simple and though he gradually came to understand and even lose the colossus with the delicate unsynchronized ""innards of a Swiss watch"" he does not permit sentiment to camouflage his father's fissures, ""He was sexually fixated on women's feet and shoes"" reports Gerard though this was perhaps the least of his innumerable, destructive psychological aberrations which extended into his professional lite via his difficult, acrimonious relationships to his publishers and the many interpolations of fictionalized autobiography which mar his historical works. To the many households where The Story of Mankind filled the family bookshelf between the Bible and the dictionary, van Loon is still a well-remembered name however unread today and this remarkably candid and objective portrait of a choleric, demanding and talanted man could well have the larger than life success he enjoyed.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1972
Publisher: Lippincott