- Hardcover: 420 pages
- Publisher: Wm B Eerdmans Publishing Co (April 16, 2010)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0802817696
- ISBN-13: 978-0802817693
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 6 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,407,466 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Hope in a Scattering Time: A Life of Christopher Lasch Hardcover – April 16, 2010
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--Chris Lehmann, Bookforum
"A fine, thoughtful, and even moving book, its appearance could hardly be more opportune."
--Andrew Bacevich, World Affairs
"Eric Miller has written an intelligent and engaging Lasch life-story"
--David S. Brown, The American Conservative
From the Back Cover
-- author of The Spiritual Life of Children
"In this book Eric Miller tellingly brings to life a very important twentieth-century American social and intellectual observer-critic. With brilliance and verve Christopher Lasch took a nation's pulse and scrutinized its flaws, ideas, and ideals. This biography expounds his candid wisdom and his impatience with pretense and hypocrisy -- a gift to all of us now as we try to figure out what matters, and why."
-- author of Brother to a Dragonfly
"Anyone who wants to understand Christopher Lasch has only to read Eric Miller's Hope in a Scattering Time. That is because only one intellectual should write about another. Few in Lasch's time would question that he was a brilliant scholar. Few who read Miller's book can question that he is another. We give thanks for both."
Jean Bethke Elshtain
-- author of Democracy on Trial
"Eric Miller's Hope in a Scattering Time is an intellectual inquiry and a moving personal portrait of a true American original."
-- author of The Masterless: Self and Society in Modern America
"Christopher Lasch was a major intellectual figure in late twentieth-century America, one of the few whose reputation is likely to survive and grow with the passage of time. His brand of historically and psychologically informed social criticism was uncommonly prescient and remains surprisingly relevant to our current dilemmas. So does his example, as Eric Miller shows in this vivid and engaging book. Lasch's uncompromising independence cast him as Socrates in an age of sophists, and the sweeping range, critical intensity, high seriousness, and rigorous honesty of his writings won him warm admirers, many fierce critics, and a circle of brilliant and devoted students. Miller's biography brings all of this to life and, in the process, offers Lasch's life as a ringing case for the dignity of the intellectual's calling.
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Lasch (1932-1994), known as Kit by his parents, family, and friends, was an American historian who came of age during the height of the Cold War and died from cancer shortly after the Soviet Union collapsed. His mother, Zora Schaupp Lasch (1898-1982), gained a PhD in philosophy in 1925 from Bryn Mawr. For the times this alone would make her a most unusual woman. His father, Robert (1907-1998), was a Rhodes scholar at Oxford who became a journalist and then an editor. Both of Kit's parents were progressive, liberal democrats who were religious skeptics. They both nurtured and encouraged Kit, who as a prodigy was writing and editing his own newspaper as a boy. His parents provided him with sage advice and intellectual support throughout his entire life. At Harvard he toyed with becoming a fiction writer, and excelled in writing all his life. But his love of history beckoned, and he took a PhD in history from Columbia in 1961. Given this impressive background one might have supposed that he would mature into a progressive liberal like his parents and many of his generation. But Lasch was driven by deeper concerns and struck out in a divergent direction.
Lasch's two most defining characteristics were his uncanny prescience and his forthright integrity. He felt, intensely, that America had taken a wrong turn sometime in the late nineteenth-early twentieth century and that it was his job to clarify this wrong turn and to suggest how we might get back on the right path. One other salient quality was Lasch's lurking sense of ambivalence toward religion. Although both his parents were thoroughly secular, having no religious beliefs, from his Harvard days Lasch sensed something more profound that religion had to offer human beings if one stripped it of its dogmatic exterior.
Almost all* of Lasch's books set out in his literary style what was ailing this country, and Miller does an excellent job in delineating what drove Lasch along the path of each book he wrote, the praise it garnered, and also the multitude of criticisms leveled at it. He also does a masterful job in following Lasch's growing disenchantment with the liberal progressives whom he largely blamed for the country's ills. Needless to say, this led many liberals to excoriate Lasch's work.
Although Lasch saw with dismay the growing destabilization of this country and the erosion of its moral and societal values, he stayed clear of the conservatives whom he felt offered banal platitudes and little insight into the plights afflicting the country. As a result, during his career as a historian he was increasingly marginalized by both the left and the right. He ended up a lonely voice, a sad ending for so brilliant a man. Since the '90s the country's ailments have steadily worsened. I believe Lasch, had he lived to the present, would have been deeply saddened by what has transpired in this country but would hardly have been surprised.
To some extent Lasch's personal life emerges into focus. In 1956 while still a graduate student at Columbia, he married Nell Commager, the daughter of Henry Steele Commager, a well known liberal historian. They had four children. It appears they shared a happy family life together, spent chiefly from 1970 in a Rochester suburb when Lasch became first a professor of history at the University of Rochester, and later in 1985 the chair of its History Department. Besides being a voracious reader, Lasch was also an accomplished cook, a worthy carpenter, and enjoyed having friends and students over to his house for singing, enjoying good food and engaging conversation.
My only criticism is that some B/W photos would have been very rewarding. Photos of his parents; Lasch as a young man and then older; his wife; his children; his friend/enemy (frenemy as they say now), Eugene Genovese; other prominent people in his life, would have made a welcome addition. Sadly, these are missing. Possibly they would have been too costly to reproduce for a book of this nature. The only photo we see of Lasch is the one on the front of the dust jacket where he appears to be in his late 40s or possibly early 50s.
In summary, this country lost a great historian who truly cared about it and who feared what was likely to be its fate if a corrective remedy was not found. We could sorely use more people of his caliber today, both in academia and in politics.
* Lasch wrote a brief book titled Plain Style: A Guide to Written English, chiefly for his graduate students. It doesn't exactly conform to the rest of his scholarly works.