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Cultural Amnesia: Necessary Memories from History and the Arts Hardcover – March 17, 2007
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Top Customer Reviews
I was tempted to dock a star in my rating because of the unusually high level of typos. In all seriousness, I have never encountered a book with so many - It may border on an average of one typo per page. Norton, someone was asleep at the switch here. Despite this distraction, a wonderful read.
James puts emphasis, in an "Overture," on Vienna of the late 19th and early 20th century. From there, he provides brief character sketches from "A" (e.g., Anna Akhmatova, Louis Armstrong, Raymond Aron) to "Z" (e.g., Aleksandr Zinoviev, Stefan Zweig), with stops at other letters in between. Thus, the ordering is simply alphabetical, again to make the reader pull things together him or herself. While the thoughts that he injects into these sketches can sometimes be rather close minded (his rather haughty dismissal of thinkers such as Derrida and Foucault), that is easily forgiven for the erudition and provocative comments that recur throughout this book.
Let's take a look at a handful of the biographical treatments to illustrate his approach. Louis Armstrong, while a victim of racism from birth to death (in 1971), rose above that. The intriguing tie between him and Bix Beiderbecke (a white jazz musician, in an era when many said that whites could not play the genre) is one example.Read more ›
So it's dismaying that few reviews even touch on these points.
Personally, I was very intrigued on first reading of the book-- enough to buy and read 3 European and World histories. What I found was corroboration of his facts (Norman Davies' estimate of deaths due to Stalin is at least 54 millions. Mao would make him look like an amateur. Pol Pot-- he had fewer to work with, so he went for the record percentage killed.) And in a fresh way, I can trace modernism and its associated destructive forces from the French Revolution onward.
I then re-read Cultural Amnesia and more fully appreciated Clive James' genius.
A superb accomplishment.
Perhaps it is because James is a bit too taken with his own erudition. This comes through in many of the essays in this book and is sometimes quite annoying. Then there is the simple fact that most of the essays are far too short to really develop their admittedly fascinating subjects. Of those subjects whose writings this reviewer is familiar with such as Albert Camus and Marcel Proust, both were treated in a rather superficial and not terribly original way. In the essay on Edward Gibbon, James treats one of the most monumental historical works in the English language as a literary exercise and fails to note how much fun Gibbon obviously had in writing it. In his essay about the existentialist philosophy of Jean Paul Sartre, he fails to note that Sartre the novelist provided a far more authentic (so to speak) rationale for existentialism than Sartre the philosopher. James may have gone astray by trying to tackle complex individuals too succinctly to do either them or James justice.
Yet James also produced a very sensitive and well crafted essay on F. Scott Fitzgerald which surely adds new dimension to that subject's character. His work on Thomas Mann was also well crafted and original. Interestingly, both are substantially longer than most of the essays in this book. In the end when he is good James is very good, but when he is bad he is indeed horrid much like the cliché which he must abhor.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
This was a tough call. I was woo'd by the title and subject, expecting a more explicit connection between events and personalities of the past and our current societal issues. Read morePublished 1 month ago by JOHN D RITTENHOUSE
First rate criticism, written in a funny, powerful, driving stylePublished 4 months ago by Andrew McC.
One of those books you should only buy to reduce the number of copies in circulation. It promises to remind us of forgotten thinkers of old, and by means of that, save us from the... Read morePublished 7 months ago by Kosta Tovstiadi
This was a gift for my husband, who reviews as follows:
"The book is the fruit of forty years of reading and reflection, and is comprised of essays on individuals which... Read more
Not fiction. great essays. i cuould not put down the book.Published 14 months ago by Manuel J. Santayana
If you have ever even once in your life thought you were a bit clever, read this and any thoughts you had of being well read are dashed completely. Read morePublished 20 months ago by Paul Rooney
To take the Convict ship Human cargo on return trip - well you will end with Murdoch , Ben Elton ,Dame Edna and Clive James to teach English what Kipling had not meant by his... Read morePublished 21 months ago by Zdenek Hanzlik