May 24, 2019

Book review: “Working: Researching, Interviewing, Writing” by Robert A. Caro

For more than half a century — for 52 years, to be exact — Robert A. Caro has been working full-time to research, understand and write about power in America. He has done this by looking at the lives of two men.  First, it was Robert Moses, the unelected holder of a host of appointive offices that he used to reshape the face of New York City — and the result was Caro’s 1974 book The Power Broker (1,336 pages). Then, he turned his sights on Lyndon B. Johnson, one of the greatest and worst of American presidents — and the result, so far, has been four installments of a series titled The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Path to Power (1990), The Means of Ascent (1991), Master of the Senate (2003) and The Passage of Power (2013).  A fifth and final volume is in the works, and Caro has told Time magazine that he has already written about 100,000 words.  That sounds like a lot, but, with Caro, it isn’t. When he wrote The Power Broker, Caro submitted a manuscript that was deemed to be too long, and, as he notes in his new memoir Working, he had to […]
May 22, 2019

Book review: “Night of Masks” by Andre Norton

Andre Norton’s 1964 novel Night of Masks is a claustrophobic reading experience — and not in a good way. This book followed her novel Catseye, published three years earlier, and, like that work, its central character is a resident of the Dipple, a ghetto area of the planet Korwar, a seedy slum where refugees and deportees from forty worlds have been unceremoniously dumped.  Some serve the purposes of the rulers, residents and visitors to the playground world; others simply scrape to survive. Catseye was a well-made sci-fi adventure, hinging on the ability of Troy Horan to communicate telepathically with animals.  It was his ticket out of the Dipple and into a place on the edges of the luxurious lifestyles of well-to-do Korwar people. In fact, his time in the Dipple, in terms of the book, is very short.  An opening chapter, and then he’s in the better part of town. No special skills The hero of Night of Masks, Nik Kolherne, is also from the Dipple, and, like Troy, he is finding a way out of there in the first few pages of the book.  Unlike Troy, however, Nik doesn’t have any special skills.  In fact, the bottom of his […]
May 22, 2019

Book review: “Royal Books & Holy Bones: Essays in Medieval Christianity” by Eamon Duffy

For the general public, Christianity before the Protestant Reformation is viewed as a fairly monolithic institution.  Yet, in Royal Books and Holy Bones, Eamon Duffy explains that, nowadays, historians of the medieval period think in terms of the plural “Christianities” of that era. Duffy, a professor of the history of Christianity at the University of Cambridge in England, writes that such scholars tend “to interest themselves in the rise of ‘micro-Christendoms’: the radically different and sometimes seemingly incompatible forms in which the Christian impulse, if it ever had been one impulse, metamorphosed and diversified as it adapted to changing times and new disparate cultures.”  As a result, research has moved away from looking at Popes and theological debates to an examination of these Christianities as “a set of practices, the religious strategies adopted by the people of the past to make sense of their daily existence.” Academic mumbo-jumbo? All this might seem like academic mumbo-jumbo to modern-day Catholics.  But think about it: Even without considering the Protestant-Catholic divide, there are, within Catholicism today, a wide range of approaches to the faith.  Yes, the Pope and the bishops claim the final say on theological issues (although they don’t always agree).  Still, […]
May 13, 2019

Book review: “ ‘They Say’ : Ida B. Wells and the Reconstruction of Race” by James West Davidson

Born a slave during the Civil War, Ida B. Wells was among the first generation of African-Americans who, in the wake of emancipation, had to define themselves in a radically new way — and had to fight back attempts by the mainstream white society to impose on them a definition from the outside. As James West Davidson writes in his stellar ‘They Say’: Ida B. Wells and the Reconstruction of Race, freedom for blacks threatened to upend the white assertion that African-Americans were lesser human beings.  Race — and the separation of the races — suddenly became much more significant. The struggle arose out of the vacuum created when emancipation eliminated the legal categories of slave and free.  If the law of the land prescribed a status, slave, which could be upheld and regulated, race was a useful concept but not necessarily paramount. Once the legal props of slavery disappeared, however, it became much more difficult for one group of people to justify keeping another in an inferior position.  Race was the key.  A line was drawn — a color line, as Wells called it — that during the 1880s and 1890s was increasingly buttressed by new laws, customs, and […]
May 9, 2019

Poem: “Stone fence”

Stone fence I built me a stone fence by stacking one glass of Maker’s Mark whiskey on another, interspersed with large lumps of ice, mortared with sweet cider. I built me a stone fence in a circle and, when it was done, leaped inside the circuit and fell down the well to the center of the Earth where I met Buddha, Our Lady of Light, the Queen of Clubs and St. Augustine who wanted to get on the wagon but not just yet. I built me a stone fence across the face of northwest Ireland as if to corral the island’s saints, fairies, snakes, nuns and travelers in the backroom of a pub where the constable is writing poetry, and I long for coffee. I built me a stone fence and went out on Main Street in noonday sun where Johnny Raptor, wanted in seven states, called me out, and, as I drew, my skull was thundered with a screaming headache that no hangover remedy was ever going to calm. I built me a stone fence and then crawled under the weight of it all into my sympathetic grave. Patrick T. Reardon 5.9.19 This poem originally appeared in the anthology […]
May 1, 2019

Book review: “The Virgin Queen: Elizabeth I, Genius of the Golden Age” by Christopher Hibbert

Elizabeth I, especially early in her 44-year reign, had a lot of nagging health problems, but, notes Christopher Hibbert, she hated to be ill or to be thought to be ill. One time, she had an extremely painful toothache. Her doctors and members of her Privy Council — the equivalent of an American President’s Cabinet — told her the tooth had to be extracted, but she refused.  She kept saying, “no,” until “the Bishop of London allowed the surgeon to pull out one of his teeth to demonstrate the ease with which the operation could be performed.” “Highly strung” Elizabeth I dominated England as its queen for the entire second half of the 16th century, a time that came to be called the Elizabethan Age. She was intelligent, strong-willed, devious, vain, affectionate and enigmatic, holding her throne for more than four decades during an era when women weren’t supposed to wield such power. She was also a human being, and that’s the Elizabeth who is the subject of Christopher Hibbert’s luminous 1991 biography The Virgin Queen: Elizabeth I, Genius of the Golden Age. (By the way, for another look at this book, see my review in the Chicago Tribune in […]
April 24, 2019

Book review: “Witches Abroad” by Terry Pratchett

In Terry Pratchett’s 1991 Discworld novel Witches Abroad,  Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg and Magrat Garlick have an adventure in “foreign places,” in particular, Genua, a New Orleans-ish place that a witch named Lilith with a fondness for mirrors wants to change into a kind of Disneyland on steroids. You can tell while reading this that Pratchett had recently gone to New Orleans and fallen in love with the tastily weird food of that one-of-a-kind city. You can also tell that he had a bee in his bonnet about the sickly saccharine fairy tale stories that the Walt Disney studios specialized in — the sort in which everything happens just so, the bad queen/witch/mother gets her due, and the heroine and her savior (a girl, after all, needs a savior) live happily ever after. Or else Lilith is trying to inflict stories on Genua in the same way that Vladimir Lenin, Joe Stalin and their crew inflicted totalitarianism on Russia and its satellites.   You will be happy — or else! There’s also a swamp woman named Mrs. Gogol and a zombie named Saturday who are trying to inflict their own idea of a story on Genua. And there’s a young girl […]
April 21, 2019

Book review: “It Walks by Night” by John Dickson Car

On the second page of John Dickson Carr’s first murder mystery It Walks by Night, the book’s narrator, a young American named Jeff Marle, tells the reader that, on that first night, “I knew that there would be ugly things in the future.” Carr, an American himself, was at the start of a writing career that would span four decades and see him acclaimed as one of the greatest writers in the heyday of the sort of mysteries that were written with complex, plot-oriented stories centered on one or more puzzles that the reader was expected to be trying to solve as the pages were turned.  Indeed, he was a callow 24 when It Walks by Night was published in 1930, and that’s clear in the book.  He’s trying too hard. At this point, Agatha Christie had already published nearly a dozen mysteries, and Carr, along with a great many other writers, was trying to find his own spot at the bestseller table.  While Christie could be, at times, macabre, her books tended to be somewhat demur, featuring murders that, if not quite bloodless, were low on gore and high on brain work. “A slow and lifelike sway” In this […]
April 17, 2019

Book review: “Forty Lashes Less One” by Elmore Leonard

Halfway through Elmore Leonard’s 1972 novel Forty Lashes Less One, Everett Manly, the fill-in warden at Yuma Territorial Prison in Arizona is trying to get two convicts to find some purpose in life. One is Harold Jackson, a black former Marine who, during the Spanish-American War, walked away from his unit in Cuba and was locked up for desertion.  Later, he was convicted of murder. The other is Raymond San Carlos, an Indian-Mexican whose father fought with Geronimo and who is imprisoned for killing a cowboy who, once too often, called him a “red greaser.” “In labor and hardships” Mr. Manly, a longtime Protestant preacher, is explaining to the two men that St. Paul — “a Jew-boy” — was able to put up with great hardships because he had found a purpose in life, serving God. “You boys think you’ve experienced hardships, listen, I’m going to read you something.  From two Corinthians, ‘Brethren, gladly you put up with fools, because you are wise…’ Let me skip down. “But whereas any man is bold…Are they ministers of Christ?’ Here it is ‘…in many more labors, in lashes above measure, often exposed to death. From the Jews’ — listen to this — […]
April 15, 2019

Book review: “Advice for Future Corpses (and Those Who Love Them): A Practical Perspective on Death and Dying” by Sallie Tisdale

Back in high school, two years in a row, we had a retreat master who relished the session he did on death. “You will die,” he’d intone in a very theatrical way that was meant to scare the bejesus out of us, teens that we were.  It was part and parcel with a pre-Vatican II theology that saw death as a hammer hanging over the sinner: Don’t make a misstep.  At any moment, you….could….be….dead! Sallie Tisdale’s “Advice for Future Corpses” presents a much more balanced view of the end of life and, as the title indicates, contains more than a bit of humor.  While not religious in an institutional sense, her book contains the spiritual message that life is richer when you recognize that death is coming.  That death is a part of living — indeed, a key component of living — and, as such, part of God’s creation. Tisdale notes that modern Americans, particularly Baby Boomers like her, “choose not to notice” the reality of death. “We pretend that what we absolutely know to be true somehow isn’t true. But the nasty surprises can’t really be avoided.” Not an “if” That’s for sure.  As the retreat master said, “You […]
April 8, 2019

Book review: “The Book of Genesis,” illustrated by R. Crumb

It’s not for nothing that the front cover of The Book of Genesis, illustrated by R. Crumb carries this warning: ADULT SUPERVISION RECOMMENDED FOR MINORS And this note: THE FIRST BOOK OF THE BIBLE GRAPHICALLY DEPICTED! NOTHING LEFT OUT! The illustrator of this 2009 book, after all, is R. Crumb, he of Fritz the Cat and a host of other scandalously in-your-face underground comix of the 1960s and later, adopted and promoted by the counterculture and still strenuously abhorred by various segments of American society, including feminists. That warning on the cover is needed because Crumb doesn’t pull any punches as he draws the entire book of Genesis, using for the most part the highly praised translation by Robert Alter and a bit of the King James Version. On the other hand, he does so respectfully.  He didn’t do this book as an exercise in campiness or as a way of making fun of religious faith.  Indeed, in his way, Crumb has striven to be true to the text, more than other drawn versions have been. “A powerful text” As he explains in an introduction: Every other comic book version of the Bible that I’ve seen contains passages of completely […]
April 3, 2019

Book review: “Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland” by Patrick Radden Keefe

I’m at a loss about the newly published Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe. As a reader, I find that, sometimes, books just hit me the wrong way.  I think everyone who reads has this experience.  When it occurs, I’m often not sure if I’m the problem or the book is the problem.  So, it might be that I’ve got a blind-spot here or just wasn’t in the mood to read Say Nothing.  So, take what I write with a grain of salt. On the plus side, this work by Keefe, a New Yorker staff writer, is a real page-turner.  He knows how to pull the reader through his story, and I found that, even as I started to have qualms about Say Nothing, I kept ripping along as if this were almost a thriller. My qualms My qualms began maybe 100 pages into the 348 pages of text, and they had to do with questions about what kind of a story I was reading. If you pay attention to the subtitle, this book is A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland.  Its first chapter tells the […]
March 18, 2019

Book review: “Things That Go Trump in the Night: Poems of Treason and Resistance” by Paul Fericano

The final poem in Paul Fericano’s new biting, silly and fittingly sophomoric poetry collection Things That Go Trump in the Night: Poems of Treason and Resistance (Poems-For-All Press, 90 pages, $7), is titled “TRUMP CHANGE,” and it has a single line: what’s in your wallet? This is a play on Samuel L. Jackson’s ubiquitous commercials for a bankcard company with that punchline — a Jacksonesque-thundering assertion that, if you have the card of another company, you are guilty of financial stupidity and of being a seabottom-scouring loser. When it come to the application of this line with its subtext to an American electorate that, two years ago, voted in as President of the United States Donald J. Trump, well, if the shoe fits…. “Moochies and huckabees” For his 42 poems here, Fericano has mined the full range of culture, from pop to historic, as in his use of the traditional Scottish prayer that is likely to resonate with most readers, even if those not experts on Scottish theology.  The original reads: From ghoulies and ghosties And long-leggedy beasties And things that go bump in the night, Good Lord, deliver us! Kinda cute if you don’t believe in any of that […]
March 14, 2019

Book review: “The Jazz Alphabet” by Neil Shapiro

There are many pleasures in Neil Shapiro’s newly published The Jazz Alphabet — and you don’t have to be a jazz aficionado to enjoy them. This book by Neil — a friend — draws readers, whatever their musical allegiance, into the jazz world in vibrant and savory ways.  From the images he crafted and the words he put on display, I could almost taste the tang and sugar of this great music. “Brought it” As the title suggests, Neil builds his book, available for $35 at https://www.cognitoforms.com/SunriseHitekGroupLLC/thejazzalphabet, around the 26 letters of the alphabet, offering a two-page spread for a single music-maker for each letter. Thus, “R” is for Django Reinhardt (illustrated invitingly with smoke curling from the cigarette in his lips beneath a pencil-thin moustache as he plays his guitar), and “G” is for Dexter Gordon (a straight-head presence on the page, either just getting ready to play or just finishing). On the lefthand page of each spread are a few sentences from Neil, such as his comment on Billie Holiday: The tremulous vulnerability in Billie Holiday’s voice is unique.  Even while she balances on the edge of seeming despair, there’s a sly promise of pleasure in there.  How […]
March 11, 2019

Book review: “Eichman in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil” by Hannah Arendt

Early in Eichmann in Jerusalem, her insightful, sober and controversial 1964 book, Hannah Arendt notes that Adolf Eichmann — tried, convicted and executed in Jerusalem for war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity during the Holocaust — was a joiner. As a result, she writes that “May 8, 1945, the official date of Germany’s defeat, was significant for him mainly because it then dawned upon him that thenceforward he would have to live without being a member of something or other.”  Indeed, as Eichmann said: “I sensed I would have to live a leaderless and difficult individual life, I would receive no directives from anybody, no orders and commands would any longer be issued to me, no pertinent ordinances would be there to consult – in brief, a life never known before lay before me.” A leaderless life This, to me, seems to be at the heart of Arendt’s analysis of Eichmann and his import for anyone seeking to understand those who carried out the Nazi-ordered killing of six million Jews and millions of others leading up to and during World War II.  And not just who, but also how and why. When, on May 11, 1960, Eichmann was kidnapped […]
March 6, 2019

Book review: “Unnatural Axe” by Tom Huth

Published in 1969, Tom Huth’s Unnatural Axe is a time capsule from a moment — a very short blip — in American time. The innocence of the 1960’s idealism and freedom was beginning to sour, but no one could quite figure out what was going on.  Huth’s novel tells the story of the swaggering, hyper-cool winners in Ute City (a stand-in for Aspen, Colorado) and the footloose but not exactly fancy-free hippies of the nearby rural slum town of Puckersville.  These characters find themselves trying to maneuver in a startlingly new way of living the American dream that, unbeknownst to them, would turn out to be as wispy as the powder of a dandelion puff. Baffling uncertainty A half century after its publication, Unnatural Axe seems quaint.  Yet, anyone who lived through those times recognizes the baffling uncertainty these characters feel in the face of so much that is strange and unprecedented. Huth makes fun of the Ute City movers and shakers and finds kinship with the more anarchic freedom of Puckersville.  But his characters are very serious in trying to blaze new trails to happiness and fulfillment — to meaning. In an odd way, this underlying search for meaning […]
March 4, 2019

Book review: “Fluke, Or, I Know Why the Winged Whale Sings” by Christopher Moore

In his 2003 novel Fluke, Or, I Know Why the Winged Whale Sings, Christopher Moore gets all science-y on us. And more than a little science fiction-y (but without all those nasty aliens). And even a bit religious-y, what with the characters talking a lot about prayer and God and you know.  But not like Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal, Moore’s 2002 novel about, well, Jesus — but it wasn’t preachy, just kind of sad, but it was funny and raunchy a bit (but not Jesus being raunchy, although he is more than a bit confused about a lot of stuff [until the end when, oh — I said it was kind of sad, didn’t I?]). The Zodiac story There’s more than a bit of raunchiness in Fluke involving people in some cases and creatures in others — such as whales (including two big whale guys [whom, Moore informs us, are endowed with testes weighing about a ton each and a 10-foot penis] who mistakenly think a Zodiac inflatable boat containing two female (human) scientists is the object of their common affection and, well, act upon that assumption, if you get my drift. The two female […]
February 22, 2019

Book review: “Moby Dick” by Herman Melville

Moby Dick is an epic piece of literature on a par with Homer’s Iliad and Shakespeare’s King Lear and the Bible’s Job.  It is densely rich in language and structure, in character and story. Its account of a man against a whale is a story that had never been told before with such grandeur.  Yet, it parallels other efforts by master storytellers down the centuries to portray humans confronting the unanswerable questions of existence. Like Job grappling with the question of why bad things happen to good people — indeed, why suffering is in the world. Like Lear raging against the deterioration of the body, the betrayal of others and, even more, his own betrayals of himself. Achilles, the unconquerable, fights and dies because of a fatal flaw. Oedipus unknowingly kills his father and has sex with his mother because of the blindness that every human being is born with, the inability to know everything, to understand the consequences of actions. To fully understand Moby Dick would require months, probably years.  And I read it just once. I know how weak my understanding of the novel is.  Still, I was able to spot certain aspects that I found deeply enrichening. […]
February 22, 2019

Book review: The poetry of “Moby Dick” by Herman Melville

One of the great pleasures of reading Herman Melville’s Moby Dick is his wondrously muscular prose.  So thick with meaning and image, so meaty with psychological insight, so dense and meaty. Often, reading one of his paragraphs — even one of his sentences — I was struck by the poetry of his prose.  It is a prose-poetry of rhythm and sound, of deep echoes (of Shakespeare, of the Bible, or the vast store of literature), of hard edges and the softness-hardness of the ocean water. Here are ten examples: The Pacific When gliding by the Bashee isles we emerged at last upon the great South Sea; were it not for other things, I could have greeted my dear Pacific with uncounted thanks, for now the long supplication of my youth was answered; that serene ocean rolled eastwards from me a thousand leagues of blue. There is, one knows not what sweet mystery about this sea, whose gently awful stirrings seem to speak of some hidden soul beneath; like those fabled undulations of the Ephesian sod over the buried Evangelist St. John. And meet it is, that over these sea-pastures, wide-rolling watery prairies and Potters’ Fields of all four continents, the […]
February 18, 2019

Book review: “As a City on a Hill” by Daniel T. Rodgers

The United States is an exceptional country, and it stands as a shining city upon a hill as a model of freedom to the rest of the world. That’s the message that American politicians and history books have preached over the past six decades, using, as illustration and proof, what they and scholars have called one of the founding documents of the nation. The document, “A Model of Christian Charity,” was written, the story goes, as a lay sermon delivered by John Winthrop, the elected governor of a community of Puritans, to his followers in 1630 on a small wooden ship in the mid-Atlantic as they headed into the unknown of the New World.  Its key sentences come near the end: “For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill; the eyes of all people are upon us.  So that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken and so cause him to withdraw his present help from us, we shall be made a story and a byword through the world.” “At least half wrong” In As a City on a Hill, Princeton University scholar Daniel T. Rodgers, an […]
February 11, 2019

Book review: “Reaper Man” by Terry Pratchett

Terry Pratchett, whose life was cut short in 2015 by Alzheimer’s disease, thought much about death during his 66 years. And, in his 41 hilarious, witty and silly Discworld fantasy novels, he wrote a lot about death, especially Death, a tall, skeletal guy who was one of his main characters. Perhaps that’s why the books are so full of life. And perhaps why they’re so funny. In the face of the downright, absolute unreasonableness of human existence — you and I were born to die — what’s a better response than to laugh and live fully? “Really good there” In Pratchett’s 1991 novel Reaper Man, Death, the character, is front and center, and the story revolves around the effort of some higher-ups (even Death has bosses) to, well, not exactly ease him out of his job.  To put it bluntly, they set it up so that Death himself will die. Early on, right after Death has gotten this news, Pratchett writes: The shortest-lived creatures on the Disc were mayflies, which barely make it through twenty-four hours.  Two of the oldest zigzagged aimlessly over the waters of a trout stream, discussing history with some younger members of the evening hatching. “You […]
February 6, 2019

Book review: “Unlearning with Hannah Arendt” by Marie Luise Knott

Unlearning with Hannah Arendt by Marie Luise Knott is a sparse, poetic examination of a profound and humane 20th century thinker who was deeply learned, richly insightful and, above all, intellectually courageous. Never more courageous than in her realization that, in the aftermath of World War II, she needed to, as Knott puts it, “unlearn” all that she knew — her entire frame of reference and body of knowledge — in order to incorporate in her understanding of human existence the reality of the Nazis and the Holocaust. In other words, to take all the psychological and scholarly framework that she had worked all her life to develop and throw it on the garbage heap. And, then, to build a new framework. Arendt did this several times in her life, reframing for herself her understanding of evil and its presence in the lives of human beings. “Allows them to go missing” Knott, a German journalist and literary critic, delves into the heart of Arendt’s thinking and its evolution in this thin volume of 113 pages, about 30,000 words, published in 2011.  It is divided into four sections, one each for four important “pathways of thought” that the philosopher-political theorist employed. […]
January 30, 2019

Book review: “Gunsights” by Elmore Leonard

The title of Elmore Leonard’s 1979 western Gunsights is a play on words although the reader doesn’t find that out until the plot twist on the novel’s final page. The pun has to do with a Wild West show in the 1890s.  For most of the story, though, “gunsights” seems to be about an expected shoot-out between Dana Moon and Brendan Early, two friends with a cross-hatched history who find themselves, sort of, on two sides of a land war in Arizona. Certainly, as the novel opens, reporters from big-city newspapers, camping out at the Gold Dollar in Sweetmary, are expecting this brother-in-arms-against-brother-in-arms battle, even to the point of toying with the idea of naming the violent real estate fight after the two — the Early-Moon Feud. As things turn out, however, there’s not really a feud, just a couple of guys who have worked closely together — such as the two tracking an Apache band who kidnapped a young woman (who, later, becomes Moon’s wife) and the one (Early) helping the other (Moon) break out of jail — while, now and again, getting a bit irritated with each other, as guys do. “I can go home…” I.e., during the […]
January 28, 2019

Book review: “The Moonshine War” by Elmore Leonard

Elmore Leonard writes amiable novels that tend to meander along until one of his dopey characters — all of his characters are, like humans, pretty dopey — breaks into violence that is shocking because of its casualness. That happens in The Moonshine War when 25-year-old gunman Dual Meaders — in addition to being dopey, most of Leonard’s characters have wonderfully odd names — anyway, Dual Meaders takes a cotton to a city dude’s  suit. It’s lunchtime at a café in rural Kentucky, and Dual is eating with his employer Dr. Emmett Taulbee and Taulbee’s female companion Miley Mitchell. At another table in the otherwise empty restaurant is a couple, both of them in their mid- or late-twenties with city written all over them.  They were trying to appear at ease, but the [waitress] could tell they were self-conscious… The new gabardine suit Dual keeps eying the man’s obviously new gabardine suit and, finally, gets up, goes over to their table and offers to buy it from him — not another of his suits, this one, right here, now. “What am I supposed to do, take it off right here and give it to you?” “That’s right.” The young city man […]
January 23, 2019

Book review: The Three Escapes of Hannah Arendt: A Tyranny of Truth

Ken Krimstein’s 2018 graphic biography of Jewish-German-French-American philosopher and political theorist Hannah Arendt is titled The Three Escapes of Hannah Arendt: A Tyranny of Truth. The cover with its three cartoon-character images of Arendt as a child, as a young woman and as an older woman signals that here is a book that doesn’t take itself too seriously.  Krimstein has fun, and so does the reader. Still, when it comes to Arendt, Krimstein is very, very serious.  Behind his jokey manner and often playful illustrations, he wants the reader to come away with the sense of Arendt as one of the most important 20th century intellectual figures. He convinced me — to the point that I rounded up and have started to read several of Arendt’s books: The Origins of Totalitarianism and The Human Condition and Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, as well as the lively, evocative odd-angle view of her method of rethinking the core ideas of humanity Unlearning with Hannah Arendt by Marie Luise Knott. Thank you, Ken Krimstein. Searching for her books Three Escapes is a sprightly, superficial retelling of the life and ideas of Arendt with an equal emphasis on her […]