MAVERICK'S PROGRESS by James Thomas Flexner


An Autobiography
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 An extended hymn of self-praise from a noted writer of popular history. Octogenarian Flexner (An American Saga, 1983), who is best-known for his four-volume biography of George Washington, is without argument an author of many accomplishments. Regrettably, he uses this autobiography to argue just to this point, and he takes a querulous tone from the outset. Recalling that as an infant he fell out of his crib headfirst to the floor and was pronounced none the worse for the spill by the family doctor, Flexner cannot resist calling it ``a verdict which would have been denounced by the pedants and particularly the establishment of academic art historians with whom I was to feud in later years.'' Those feuds come thick and furious, with scholars, publishers, booksellers, and family; on the basis of his endless combat with those who will not see his light, Flexner pronounces himself a ``maverick,'' a brave individualist who will ride with no herd. This maverick, however, demands constant validation from the reader as he enumerates, one by one, his many successes, underscored by lengthy quotations from favorable reviews of his books. The occasional failures, of course, are not his doing, and his favorite targets for criticism, along with academic historians, are the proofreaders and copyeditors and publishers who allow errors to creep into his work, and who otherwise fail to understand him. Flexner's notes on the art of biography, which should, he argues, be practiced with emotion and the literary craftsmanship of Charles Dickens are obscured by his overweening pride. This is unfortunate, for Flexner should have had much to say on the hard work of ferreting out historical facts and shaping them into stories that will interest readers today, work for which he clearly has much talent. As it is, this overlong memoir will be of interest to Flexner's admirers alone.

Pub Date: Feb. 22nd, 1996
ISBN: 0-8232-1660-8
Page count: 512pp
Publisher: Fordham Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 1995