In the end, this generally interesting—and, in parts, fascinating—look at culture and its vicissitudes is long on diagnosis...



British philosopher and conservative polemicist Scruton (An Intelligent Person's Guide to Modern Philosophy, 1997) attempts to defend the high culture of the West by means of an all-embracing theory of modern culture’s development and decline.

Drawing on the work of anthropologists and sociologists, Scruton traces the core of any common culture to its roots in religion. Here, he maintains, in the beliefs and observances that surround the various passages of life (i.e., birth, death, and marriage) the community provides not only for its physical reproduction, but for its cultural reproduction as well. High culture, Scruton holds, is no less dependent on religion; it, too, in a heightened and imaginative form, provides a moral education in a world where religious faith is no longer a live possibility. In his fascinating historical narrative, Scruton traces the development of high culture from the Enlightenment (when aesthetics supplanted faith) through the development of Romanticism (and the growth of sentimentality) to the high Modernism whose death is the central fact of today’s culture. Scruton sees Modernism (and its paradigmatic figures, such as Wagner, Manet, Baudelaire, Eliot, and Schoenberg) as a last, heroic attempt to reassert the ordering power of art against the tsunami of popular, commercial culture. As Modernism degenerated into the merely avant-garde, however, high culture embraced kitsch and lost its ability to create order within the culture it had erected. The second, more polemical half of Scruton’s survey examines the shortcomings of such disparate features of our cultural landscape as photography and film, British youth culture, Michel Foucault, and Jacques Derrida. Taking his cue from Confucius’s Analects, Scruton concludes with a call to live “as if”—to cling to the traditions of our culture without metaphysical systems or religious creeds.

In the end, this generally interesting—and, in parts, fascinating—look at culture and its vicissitudes is long on diagnosis and very short on treatment. In a world without faith (and, increasingly, without its aesthetic transposition), Confucius isn’t going to point the way.

Pub Date: June 15, 2000

ISBN: 1-890318-37-X

Page Count: 168

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2000

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Dramatic, immersive, and wanting—much like desire itself.


Based on eight years of reporting and thousands of hours of interaction, a journalist chronicles the inner worlds of three women’s erotic desires.

In her dramatic debut about “what longing in America looks like,” Taddeo, who has contributed to Esquire, Elle, and other publications, follows the sex lives of three American women. On the surface, each woman’s story could be a soap opera. There’s Maggie, a teenager engaged in a secret relationship with her high school teacher; Lina, a housewife consumed by a torrid affair with an old flame; and Sloane, a wealthy restaurateur encouraged by her husband to sleep with other people while he watches. Instead of sensationalizing, the author illuminates Maggie’s, Lina’s, and Sloane’s erotic experiences in the context of their human complexities and personal histories, revealing deeper wounds and emotional yearnings. Lina’s infidelity was driven by a decade of her husband’s romantic and sexual refusal despite marriage counseling and Lina's pleading. Sloane’s Fifty Shades of Grey–like lifestyle seems far less exotic when readers learn that she has felt pressured to perform for her husband's pleasure. Taddeo’s coverage is at its most nuanced when she chronicles Maggie’s decision to go to the authorities a few years after her traumatic tryst. Recounting the subsequent trial against Maggie’s abuser, the author honors the triumph of Maggie’s courageous vulnerability as well as the devastating ramifications of her community’s disbelief. Unfortunately, this book on “female desire” conspicuously omits any meaningful discussion of social identities beyond gender and class; only in the epilogue does Taddeo mention race and its impacts on women's experiences with sex and longing. Such oversight brings a palpable white gaze to the narrative. Compounded by the author’s occasionally lackluster prose, the book’s flaws compete with its meaningful contribution to #MeToo–era reporting.

Dramatic, immersive, and wanting—much like desire itself.

Pub Date: July 9, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4516-4229-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Avid Reader Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2019

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

However charily one should apply the word, a beautiful book, an unconditionally involving memoir for our time or any time.


Maya Angelou is a natural writer with an inordinate sense of life and she has written an exceptional autobiographical narrative which retrieves her first sixteen years from "the general darkness just beyond the great blinkers of childhood."

Her story is told in scenes, ineluctably moving scenes, from the time when she and her brother were sent by her fancy living parents to Stamps, Arkansas, and a grandmother who had the local Store. Displaced they were and "If growing up is painful for the Southern Black girl, being aware of her displacement is the rust on the razor that threatens the throat." But alternating with all the pain and terror (her rape at the age of eight when in St. Louis With her mother) and humiliation (a brief spell in the kitchen of a white woman who refused to remember her name) and fear (of a lynching—and the time they buried afflicted Uncle Willie under a blanket of vegetables) as well as all the unanswered and unanswerable questions, there are affirmative memories and moments: her charming brother Bailey; her own "unshakable God"; a revival meeting in a tent; her 8th grade graduation; and at the end, when she's sixteen, the birth of a baby. Times When as she says "It seemed that the peace of a day's ending was an assurance that the covenant God made with children, Negroes and the crippled was still in effect."

However charily one should apply the word, a beautiful book, an unconditionally involving memoir for our time or any time.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1969

ISBN: 0375507892

Page Count: 235

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1969

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet