Author: Michael Wreszin

The Lives of Billy Pilgrim, Kilgore Trout, and Eliot Rosewater by Way of Kurt Vonnegut

Charles J. Shield’s biography offers a detailed life of the writer, his strengths and weaknesses, both as an author and a person. The major thrust of the Shields biography is to present Kurt Vonnegut as two different people, the writer and the private person. A nephew told the biographer:


The Consequences of Denial and Indifference

Anyone walking about in a large urban city today cannot help but see the overwhelming signs of the importance of race in our daily lives. Neighborhoods are segregated into black and white areas. The former are invariably blighted and unattended. The schools are almost totally segregated, black in the inner cities and white in the suburbs. The New York Times almost daily has a story on the impact of race on employment. Black resumes are often simply rejected without being read.


A Journey to Mean-spiritedness

This biography suffers from extreme hagiography and fanatical sycophantry. Norman Podhoretz is a notoriously opinionated ideologue (always denied) who expressed the most provocative statements on a world of ideas and issues. For more than fifty years there was a steady stream of books, three memoirs or autobiographies, and an endless list of articles from the early 1950s through the first decade of the 21st century.


The Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde of 20th Century Intellectual History

Anyone interested in intellectual history from the great depression of the thirties to the post war 1980s will be familiar with the impact of Arthur Koestler, whose famous assault on Stalinism and the Soviet Union in his novel Darkness at Noon was a widely praised international bestseller. There was a vehemently critical biography written by David Cesurani, Arthur Koestler—The Homeless Mind published in London in 1998. It was an opinionated attack on Koestler’s personality and moral stature.


Reading People’s Mail Should Be Fun — Not This Time

I found this volume of edited letters disappointing, particularly so since I agree with the critics, that Saul Bellow was a great writer, one of very best in the second half of the 20th century. Alfred Kazin compared him to Melville, and Norman Podhoretz declared that Bellow was "a stylist of the first order, perhaps the greatest virtuoso of language the novel has seen since Joyce."


An Intellectual Publisher or a Successful Huckster?

"The Eisenhower years have been years of flabbiness and self satisfaction and gross materialism . .. . The loudest sound has been the oink and grunt of private hoggishness. . . . It has been the age of the slob."

William Shannon, New York Times writer quoted by
Richard Rovere in The American Scholar, Spring, 1962