Leo Durocher once boasted that he never lied to Branch Rickey, the stern, churchgoing president of the Brooklyn Dodgers—but that wasn’t out of respect. He always told Rickey the truth, Durocher explained, because he figured that “Mr. Rickey never asked a question he didn’t already know the answer to.”
This is the most varied and enchanting collection of essays that has appeared in my lifetime. I say “enchanting” deliberately because every one of these pages left me with the impression that enchantment, in the sense of having been sung to or charmed, is the effect David Bentley Hart appears most to have sought. These 50-odd pieces leave the reader not merely delighted but under a kind of spell.
“The restoration of Hebrew,” writes Lewis Glinert, professor of Hebrew studies at Dartmouth College, “was an act without precedent in linguistic and sociopolitical history.” And as his valuable new book, The Story of Hebrew, demonstrates, it was a conscious decision by Jews who decided that if they were going to make it out of the Diaspora, their language was going to make it, too. So successful were the “guardians of Hebrew’s textual memory,” that when the time came to restore Hebrew as a spoken tongue after two millennia, they did so, in Glinert’s words, “almost overnight.”
This is one of those books about literature clearly not intended for people who have much experience with the subject. The target audience is, I gather, not so much people who read Faulkner or the dozens of other authors whose works are analyzed, quantified, probed, and all-around violated here as those who like the idea of having read Faulkner and, more important, like to imagine a world in which they have clever things to say about him. They certainly aren’t the sorts of people who can be trusted to have heard of even very famous writers or books, as the unrelenting journalistic hum of “Charlotte’s Web author E.B. White” and “Popular crime writer P.D. James” makes clear.
Like a show jumper cantering toward a fence, Glenn Frankel finds himself wrongfooted at the beginning of his new book about the movie High Noon. As he began his work, he so wanted the movie to be an allegory about the House Un-American Activities Committee, the hunt for communists, and the Hollywood blacklist. His own research, however, showed him it just wasn’t true, whatever screenwriter Carl Foreman, director Fred Zinnemann, and producer Stanley Kramer would later claim. The movie began as a fairly simple Western, and only the warping of memory and the insistence of critics would turn it into Hollywood’s version of, say, The Crucible, Arthur Miller’s play about the Salem witch trials as allegory for anti-communism.
For all its salutary outcomes, the end of the Cold War in 1991 also resulted in the end of the organizing principle of U.S. foreign policy: opposition to communism. U.S. policymakers never produced a new, broadly accepted, and soundly constructed alternative to advance the country’s global interests. Instead, in the new age of terrorism, the United States began to rely on military operations, even as the world was changing at a feverish pace.