I Shall Bear Witness

(by Victor Klemperer) Despite some confusing Anne Frank with a Nazi (see: Rijksmuseum moments), her diary is mandatory reading and so should be this diary of German Jewish academic, Victor Klemperer. He lived in Germany throughout the Nazi reign and this volume, covering 1933 to 1941, reveals the incremental march to holocaust. Each little step led to the next and so on, quickening in pace: May ’33: Klemperer can still lecture in Romance languages and literature at Dresden but he complies with a ‘request’ to no longer conduct exams; by May ’35, he is dismissed from his post; by October…

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Eichmann in Jerusalem

(by Hannah Arendt) The Varnished Culture finished this work none the wiser but better informed. Valuable as all eye-witness accounts are, it is nonetheless a moot point as to whether the ultimate Nazi bureaucrat is worth study at all. A trickier topic is the Stockholm-style compliance by some Jewish leaders, and touching on that exposes the author to a charge of excessive severity.

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Chomsky and Dershowitz

(by Howard Friel) Hysterical (yet deeply researched and readable) tract, designed to prove that Chomsky is Yahweh and Dershowitz is Satan. The author is obsessed with extrapolating individual examples of injustice (of which there are many) and rendering them into a damning case against Israel, without apparently considering the existential threat invoking these crimes and misdemeanors. [Peter notes: recently I received a comment from somebody called Hans, who said: “Obviously you’re a shill for the Israeli worldview.”  I mulled this one over, considered my usual response of either offering a grovelling apology or expression of gratitude for being noticed, but…

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The Best and the Brightest

(by David Halberstam) Definitive parable of hubris leading to apocalypse. Whiz kids from the ivy-league encounter a Big Texas Democrat as their new boss; tragedy ensues in a companion piece to his earlier The Making of a Quagmire but which is wider in scope. Larded with mean detail, such as when LBJ enthuses to Sam Rayburn how brilliant all the new kids are, to which the paterfamilias of Congress replies that Lyndon might be right “but I’d feel a whole lot better about them if just one of them had run for sheriff once.”  

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Alexander Hamilton

(by Ron Chernow) Definitive biography deals comprehensively with the life and work of the highly contentious Treasurer of the early republic.  (It largely bears out Gore Vidal’s fictional portrait of him in Burr). Hamilton was fundamentally a pessimist in an optimist’s land, who wrote that its inhabitants were fit for chains, hoping only for gold ones. [Update: In Vidal’s novel Burr, Hamilton, a powerful figure in the highly-charged early political days of the American Republic, is referred to as “that Creole bastard.”  The record is redressed, better late than never, by Chernow’s fine work and a new musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda, in…

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