A Confederacy of Dunces

(by John Kennedy Toole) Lovingly wry story of modern misanthrope, Ignatius J Reilly, a protean and monolithic loser who falls in love, sort of. “Oh, my God, their tongues are probably all over each other’s capped and rotting teeth”.

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Civilisation

(by Kenneth Clark) Really a compilation of scripts for a television series, this book, much ridiculed and parodied over the years (remember Monty Python’s “Are you civilised? Have you been civilised recently?”), is a wonderful, personal, informed view of humankind and culture from classical times to the then present (1968). Elegiac, nostalgic, pessimistic; almost everything in the arts since has borne out Clark’s view that “we can destroy ourselves by cynicism* and disillusion, just as effectively as bombs.” [* A cynic being a “man who knows the price of everything, and the value of nothing.” – Oscar Wilde, Lady Windermere’s…

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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 Cantos

(by Ezra Pound) The commonplace book of a madman, lines of breathtaking beauty (e.g. Canto IV, LXXIV, the closing fragments) jostle with crude, didactic ravings against usury and Jews. A pox on he who gave Pound an economics book! Or convinced him to attempt a poetic epic without structure, a theme or any cohesive idea at all. Still, it’s a lunatic mess well worth skimming.

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Burr

(by Gore Vidal) A knowing, rollicking account of the early Republic. Vidal smashes the Jeffersonian myth but creates a more interesting figure of history in lieu. Burr’s uneasy, half-respectful relationship with Alexander Hamilton, whom he ultimately killed in a duel, is particularly interesting, although contentiously handled. Vidal paints a vivid, unflattering portrait of Thomas Jefferson, the ultimate effect of which is to confirm his stature.  But it’s a close-run thing: here is Burr reflecting on the 3rd President: “He was the most charming man I have ever known, as well as the most deceitful. Were the philosopher’s charm less, the…

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