A CENTURY OF ARTS AND LETTERS

A surprisingly dull collection of essays commemorating America’s preeminent institution of arts and letters on its centennial. Editor Updike, in his confusing foreword and his chapter covering the years 1938—47, sets the tone, managing to make this venerable, stodgy old institution seem . . . stodgy but venerable. Arranged chronologically, the essays are by historians and literary figures such as Arthur Schlesinger Jr., Cynthia Ozick, Norman Mailer, Louis Auchincloss, and Hortense Calisher, artists (Wolf Kahn and Richard Lippold), and the composer Jack Beeson. Founded in 1898, the National Institute was modeled on the Institut de France and its literary chamber, the AcadÇmie franáaise. There would be confusion and in-fighting over the rules, domain, and membership status between the Institute and the Academy (an exalted, and much smaller, body within the Institute) until they were —unified— in 1993. The book’s liveliest passages have to do with the barring of such figures as H.L. Mencken and Theodore Dreiser, and with some pronounced rivalries: William James refused membership in the academy because his —younger and shallower and vainer brother— (Henry) was already in. Interesting and indicative of the character of the Academy-Institute is its decades-long battle against modernism, waged primarily by Robert Underwood Johnson, the secretary, who along with Grace Vanamee, the —permanent deputy,— would maintain a staunchly conservative tone. Leave it to Mailer to add a little zest to the proceedings. His chapter, —Rounding Camelot,— covers the period from 1958 to 1967. He laments that even at that late date the Academy-Institute was —all but wholly incapable of any kind of effective social or political action.— The organization would loosen up a little, eventually electing writers and artists Johnson would have abhorred. And its gold medals and grants remain highly sought after. Useful, but insufficiently edited. Nearly every entry re-explains who Johnson and Vanamee were or rehashes the early scandals.

Pub Date: May 7, 1998

ISBN: 0-231-10248-8

Page Count: 324

Publisher: Columbia Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1998

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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