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Matters of State: A Political Excursion Hardcover – November 20, 2000


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Counterpoint Press; First Edition edition (November 20, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1582430845
  • ISBN-13: 978-1582430843
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.1 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #5,609,674 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Hamburger has been covering the American political scene for the New Yorker since 1939; and in this collection of 26 finely crafted essays from that magazine and a few other sources, he captures both the changing nature of that scene and its unchanging essence of democratic stability. Hamburger (Friends Talking in the Night) focuses on personalities and the grand pageants of U.S. politicsDconventions and especially presidential inaugurations (by his own count, he has attended 14, and here writes on ten of them). His personality pieces, mostly from the 1940s and '50s on such notables as Fiorello La Guardia and Dean Acheson, are remarkably revealing, not in the faux confessional mode so popular today but through Hamburger's account of small details: how someone walks or talks, what he eats (all are men), how he smokes a cigar. But Hamburger's best pieces are on political spectacles. Affecting a gee-whiz, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington persona, he remains in awe of the peaceful transfer of power that presidential inaugurations represent. Still, he never misses a chance to gently skewer the pretensions of those who by luck or largesse find themselves in attendance at an inaugural ball. Hamburger presents each piece as it originally appeared, offering only occasional introductory paragraphs. Far from dating the entries, such a strategy allows them to retain a rich patina of authenticity; in his role as Everyman, he allows us to see ourselves as we did then. Elegantly sparse, immensely amusing, modestly insightful, this is simply superb writing. Any reader with an interest in politics past or present will enjoy indulging in this little volume. (Jan.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

Hamburger has been a staff writer for the New Yorker for nearly 40 years; his first collection from that journal, Friends Talking in the Night (1999), was widely praised. Here, he gathers another miscellany of pieces, with a strong slant toward politics and government. Thus, there are pieces on many of the 14 inaugurations Hamburger has attended as well as various political conventions and election days and on such figures as Judge Learned Hand and various New York City mayors. The longest essay in the collection describes Secretary of State Dean Acheson; one of the briefest captures Hamburger's visit to the National Gallery's Vermeer exhibit during the 1996 government shutdown. Some of these pieces are chatty and conversational; others, dense with facts and interpretation. Together, they offer an interesting perspective on politics and culture. Mary Carroll
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By taking a rest HALL OF FAME on April 22, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Mr. Philip Hamburger (per the book jacket) has been a staff writer for The New Yorker since 1939 or 62 years. Writing for The New Yorker is an accomplishment in itself, I have read of no one who has written for the New Yorker for the duration that Mr. Hamburger has. After all these decades one would expect that he would be a man of strong opinions which would entrench him at some point on the Political Yardstick. Any concern about partisanship is dismissed when he scorns the concepts of left and right, and suggests, "common sense, decency, and the better angels of our nature", should be what governs the thoughts of people.
The Author is remarkable for many accomplishments, however his history of having attended every Inauguration since FDR'S First, and missing only FDR'S Third and Fourth is remarkable. These events serve as milestones in his life as he viewed his first from the branches of a tree, and as time passed became a guest at a variety of distinguished functions that he tends to bring down to earth and into focus.
Readers will come away from reading the wisdom this man has accumulated over half a century with different experiences based on what he chose to include in this book, and how he treated the topics. He is a remarkable writer that would attend and observe and then write of his encounters with Washington's major events, or a private gathering with a Mayor, and then write a reflection of the topic and its relevance without discoloring it with personal prejudice. He is clearly an admirer of some of his subjects such as Judge Learned Hand, however after you read his 1946 story about this jurist and orator, you too may find you have a new individual you admire, and have been introduced to a speech that is as powerful as any given in our Country's History.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Eileen Galen on February 2, 2001
Format: Hardcover
This is a terrific collection of short and medium-length pieces that are wise, witty, and thoroughly absorbing. It deserves all of the praise it has earned.
Hamburger is a lifelong Democrat. He is old enough to remember fascism's disastrous effects on the world, and wise enough to have no patience for its contemporary apologists, although he is good at describing them. He is deeply humane and deeply ethical - along with being a wonderful storyteller. He is very, very smart, and has a great ability to listen, to watch, and to get to know people. In a quiet and subtle way, he is wholly present. These are some of the abilities that are at the heart of his writing.
He has been at it, "warily," (his adverb) for a comparatively long time. In his Prologue he offers some interesting autobiographical material. This collection begins with a piece written in 1943, and the most recent is from 1993. He reports on his fourteenth inauguration, and that he had to skip two of FDR's. Students of American politics of the '40's, '50's, and '60's will not be disappointed. "Lonely Day," a short, atmospheric piece about voting for President in 1960, and "One Man's Vote," written in 1992, are two of many pieces that in 2001 seem nearly prescient. In the second one there is some suspense regarding election day, a crisis regarding broken voting machines, and, in this instance, a happy ending. The machines are fixed and voting resumes. Democracy prevails. "One man" votes. This event had deep meaning, and the reader knows it.
An April 1970 piece "Hand on Cardozo," quotes then-Nebraska Senator Roman L. Hruska's public defense - against charges of mediocrity - of Judge Harold Carswell, President Nixon's nominee to the US Supreme Court.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Robert Morris HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on April 14, 2001
Format: Hardcover
The subtitle suggests that Hamburger offers a "political excursion" and indeed he does, enabling his reader to tag along with him as he attends national political conventions and Presidential inaugurations, beginning in 1948. Along the way, he shares his reactions to (and in some instances, his direct encounters with) various major political figures such as Fiorello LaGuardia, William O'Dwyer, Harry Truman, Thomas Dewey, Dwight Eisenhower, Joseph McCarthy, Robert Wagner, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and Bill Clinton. My personal favorites are those passages in which he shares his thoughts and feelings about Learned Hand, Dean Acheson, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt (in "retrospective"). Most of these essays originally appeared in The New Yorker. Perhaps you read those when they were first published. They are even more enjoyable to read now, especially within the sequence of presentation in this book. What adds substantially to the reader's pleasure is the high quality of Hamburger's writing style which is, in my opinion, places him in the company of George Orwell and E.B. White. Hamburger has a delicious sense of humor and a keen eye for significant detail. Within his commentaries on various world leaders, he is never reluctant to share his own strong opinions about a given subject such as "McCarthyism."
Please allow me a rather personal way in which to express my appreciation of this book. As I read it, I felt as if Hamburger and I had just completed dinner and adjourned to the living room with a beverage in hand. "As you look back over all those years and reflect on all those experiences, what are your most vivid memories of the people you observed? Which moments remain indelible? From today's perspective, what do you make of all that?
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