Commentary: Admired/Reviewed

Admired/Reviewed

Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, by James Agee and Walker Evans

This came in response for a request to write on a book that was an essential influence. Thank you, Bob Benjamin, for stuffing it into my hand way back in 1982. FROM GENTLEMEN’S QUARTERLY Reprinted with permission. A suburban boy’s father marks up his English essays, explaining both the wit and weaknesses of leading sentences with gerunds. He tells stories of fierce heroes, word warriors: Broun, who loved the street parade, and Pegler, who sat next to him all those years, despising the common man; Bigart, selfless and understated, or Mencken, who believed in only Mencken. But all of them so gifted, so deft, so able to trick a phrase. Here, says the father, read this transition. Here, look what he does with the second graf… The father takes the son to a Front Page revival at a D.C. theater. The boy is oversold. He will be a newspaperman, a journalist. Years later, he is on the metro desk at an old gray rag, Mencken’s old paper, the youngest and last-hired...

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Admired/Reviewed

Introduction: Paths of Glory by Humphrey Cobb

I was honored to be asked to write an introduction to the Penguin Classic edition of a reissued “Paths of Glory,” one of the great literary legacies of the First World War and a novel that remains essential reading, I believe, in this new century.  I also had the chance to meet and shake the hand of Mr. Cobb’s lovely grand-daughter.  What follows is reprinted with the permission of Penguin’s editors. —DS [hr] Humphrey Cobb gave us our last, failed century in a single, basic narrative. He told us of men devoured by the very institutions they served, without recourse, and for purposes petty, mechanical, and abstract. Indeed, given how little mankind truly learned from the charnel house that was the twentieth century, Cobb may have given us a blueprint for human suffering that will carry us through the next hundred years as well. To say that Paths of Glory is a novel ahead of its time is problematic, however. Cobb’s careful representations of the state of...

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