Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Dear Great Book Guru,   I was at a great debate party this week in Sea Cliff and, between politically charged outbursts and shouts, someone mentioned a recently published collection of biographies. I am looking for a something for a rather difficult- to- please book group and this sounds like it might work. What do you think?         Avid Debate Partygoer

Dear Avid, I too have attended some merry and some not so merry debate parties lately . But yes, indeed, I do know the book mentioned. And you are right- it would work beautifully for a group with divergent interests and limited time.  Joseph Epstein's ESSAYS IN BIOGRAPHY is made up of forty short (15 to 20 page) character sketches of 19th and 20th century icons with a quick dip into the 18th century (George Washington) and the   5th Century BCE (Xenophon).  Politicians form one category- Adlai Stevenson's story titled "the Man Who Couldn't Say Yes" was particularly memorable, showing a man in constant conflict with his strong moral compass and weak political skills.  Literary figures are treated  less kindly- Gore Vidal is pummeled  with "his essays are the intellectual equivalent of the comics."  Athletes fare much better-Michael Jordan's piece is particularly adulatory. Epstein calls him "the reincarnation of Achilles without the sulking and without the heel."   Start with any one of the forty and you will quickly become enmeshed in a sometimes brutally critical, sometimes outrageously funny , but always fascinating take on a life. Very good read!  

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