Found on the remainder table, no less valuable for being inexpensive--
Russell Baker (2002, New York Review of Books)
The reading I want to do being approximately infinite, I do appreciate someone else doing some of it for me (a service I hope I pass on to you, gentle reader.) Looking Back is an unusually juicy collection of thoughts about books, which the editor of the New York Review of Books apparently seduced Russell Baker into writing: "If Robert Silvers had asked for 'reviews', none of these pieces would have been written." Baker's fifty years of journalism included three decades of a 750-word regular column for the New York Times; he was intrigued by the chance to let his thoughts roam considerably farther afield.
For instance, in the course of telling us what David Nasaw had to say about William Randolph Hearst, he also has room to tell us what Hearst said about Teddy Roosevelt (who upstaged him in Cuba); and what Orson Welles cinematically alleged about Hearst in Citizen Kane; and what Pauline Kael, in the New Yorker, had to say about that. Baker himself began his working life as one of Hearst's twelve-year-old newsboys; he has considerable first-hand perspective on Hearst's pioneering of "the intermingling of news and entertainment for the mass market, which is to say, modern media."
Baker's career covering politics and power spurs him into books on the larger-than-life figures of his Washington days: "Goldwater, Nixon, Johnson, and Robert Kennedy were even more baffling than most. Did Goldwater ever truly want to be president? What would Shakespeare have made of Lyndon Johnson--Falstaff or Lear, Richard III or Bolingbroke?" Johnson and the Kennedys also feature heavily in Taylor Branch's Pillar of Fire, which Baker describes as "the one indesputably monumental book discussed in this collection."
I'd tend to agree, and that's the one I may be tempted to (re)read; for the lesser lights Baker discusses, I'm likely to consider his reading sufficient, but that's the way of it, especially in this busy season--ars longa, vita brevis.
Happy New Year to those observing Advent, and Glad Yule to all. May you always be blessed with the things that matter--Music and Friends (and of course, Books.)
Email Decemeber 2006