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.
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 CarrollCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved