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Reporting the Universe (William E. Massey Sr. Lectures in the History of American Civilization) Hardcover – May 1, 2003

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Whether he's contemplating the irony of our "God-soaked country" being officially secular, or his father's love of Edgar Allan Poe, "our greatest bad writer" (for whom he was named Edgar), or deriding the "mendacity" of politicians, Doctorow is here, as in his fiction, a wordsmith of the first order. It's a pleasure to read these essays-some autobiographical, some literary, some dealing with issues of the day-full of memorable phrases and evocative images, as well as incisive ideas. While recovering from a burst appendix as a boy during the Depression, he discovered Jack London, whose tales made him long to leave his difficult life in the Bronx "to be in the wild, loping at the head of my pack, ready to leap up and plunge my incisors into the throats of all who would harm me or my family." For readers who aren't familiar with Doctorow's work, this is a delightful and bracing introduction.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

Doctorow is not only one of our most significant living novelists, he is also a superbly illuminating essayist. Although he knew at age nine that he would be a writer, Doctorow studied philosophy rather than literature, and cites as the source of his metaphysical and moral concerns the heady dynamic between the "secular humanism" of the men in his family and the women's "impulse to reverence." As Reporting the Universe (the phrase is Emerson's) unfolds with its piquant and enlightening blend of the personal, the aesthetic, and the political, Doctorow uses the axis between the secular and the religious to take measure of the transcendent powers of literature and key ethical issues in post-September 11 America. As he forthrightly contrasts the rigidity of fundamentalism with the fluidity of intellectual and artistic explorations, Doctorow, who always works on deep, even mythic levels, creating brilliant arguments out of breathtaking metaphors, perceives great danger in the current blurring of the line between church and state, and in the enormous influence of corporate interests on governmental policy. Ultimately, this potent collection of elegantly distilled essays offers a fresh perspective on our species' capacity for both the sublime and the horrific. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Series: William E. Massey Sr. Lectures in the History of American Civilization (Book 2000)
  • Hardcover: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (May 1, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674004612
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674004610
  • Product Dimensions: 7.8 x 5.2 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,502,192 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

E. L. Doctorow's works of fiction include Homer & Langley, The March, Billy Bathgate, Ragtime, The Book of Daniel, City of God, Welcome to Hard Times, Loon Lake, World's Fair, The Waterworks, and All the Time in the World. Among his honors are the National Book Award, three National Book Critics Circle awards, two PEN/Faulkner awards, the Edith Wharton Citation for Fiction, and the presidentially conferred National Humanities Medal. In 2009 he was short-listed for the Man Booker International Prize honoring a writer's lifetime achievement in fiction, and in 2012 he won the PEN/Saul Bellow Award for Achievement in American Fiction, given to an author whose "scale of achievement over a sustained career [places] him . . . in the highest rank of American literature." In 2013 the American Academy of Arts and Letters awarded him the Gold Medal for Fiction.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Grady Harp HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on June 12, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
For those who have loved the delicious novels of this inordinately talented writer (eg 'Ragtime', 'The City of God', etc) here is the opportunity to read some illuminating thoughts by a man who is as fine a philosopher and thinker as he is a novelist. This collection of fourteen short essays range in topics from memoirs about what inspired Doctorow to become a writer, to probing and challenging forays into religion, to the sad state of our US government with suggestions on how we can regain control of a government no longer "of, by, and for the people". He frequently quotes Walt Whitman and Emerson and the Age of Enlightment, and embraces the idea of a God who is ever-changing as our society and world evolve. At times humorous, at times fearful of our direction as a country, Doctorow continues to reveal a fine mind as well as a consistly fine gift for writing. Recommended for the reader who wants to face universal questions.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By R. M. Peterson TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 10, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
E.L. Doctorow shoehorns a lot into this slim book, including snippets of memoir, thoughts on writing and storytelling, and ruminations (lectures, even) on how to live in a country with a secular religion in which ever-decreasing numbers of its citizens believe and in a world with ever-increasing fanaticism and fundamentalism.

Doctorow is somewhat of a polymath, with an impressive depth of knowledge in fields like physics, history, religion, and philosophy, as well as literature. He also is a serious and original thinker. Thus, regardless of what you think of his fiction, reading his essays is not a waste of time. But in REPORTING THE UNIVERSE (a title derived from an essay by Ralph Waldo Emerson) Doctorow tries to cover too much in too little space. When he goes beyond memoir, his ideas need more development and explication. In addition, at times the author's voice becomes cranky or curmudgeonly, and on a couple of occasions his lecturing tone comes too close to becoming a hectoring tone.
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Format: Paperback
Slow reading in parts. Read it twice and believe it's well worth the thought it provokes. Good and original advice to the young writer.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on November 11, 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
but parts are tedious. He makes some good points and the writing is rather entertaining in parts, but as a whole it seems to keep bogging down and becomes a difficult read. It starts with his early life which is rather fun to read but progresses to a series of lectures on the relationship between reality and theology. Although some of his points are good, others seem to get lost on tangents. I am glad I read it, but doubt I will pick it up again or recommend it to a friend.
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