A collection of English-language essays from over the last century, assembled by Hamilton (Walking Possession, 1996, etc.) with an eye for urgency and import.
It is a lawless bunch of items gathered here, mostly free and daring even with decades heaped on their shoulders. Because of Hamilton's taste for the momentous and the stirring, readers are brought James Baldwin's "Notes of a Native Son," Hannah Arendt's "The Concentration Camps," Norman Mailer's "The White Negro," Edmund Blunden's "The Somme Still Flows," Edmund Wilson's "The Wound and the Bow," and T.S. Eliot's "Tradition and the Individual Talent." Less momentous, though no less defining, are Martha Gellhorn's memories of Madrid in 1937 or V.S. Naipaul's fears at the dawn of India's independence, Joan Didion describing the effect of staying too long in New York, Elizabeth Hardwick considering the tawdriness of Oswald and Ruby, A. Alvarez on the poetry of risk, Philip Larkin on the risks of poetry, and Philip Roth on being shaped by baseball. There is also time made for some bijouterie: A.P. Herbert ruing that "we cannot make the bathroom what it ought to be, the supreme and perfect shrine to the supreme moment of the day"; W.H. Auden on the curious appeal of the detective story; Kingsley Amis on the potential discomfort of reading an ESD (explicit sexual description); or E.B. White on being bedazzled by a circus rider. Hamilton has arranged the essays chronologically, allowing the weighty pieces to be buoyed and giving readers sufficient oxygen to proceed through what emerges as a compelling, difficult, terrifying, at times frivolous, but at least here well-mulled, century.
A welcome anthology, to be kept near at hand and cracked open whenever time permits.