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.
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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
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