David Gelernter has a fascinating review of Paul Johnson’s Art: A New History in Commentary Magazine. Gelernter, who teaches computer science at Yale, is the author of Drawing Life: Surviving the Unabomber and 1939: The Lost World of the Fair. He treats Johnson fairly and with respect but isn’t afraid to criticize and question. Here is his conclusion:
IN SHORT: Paul Johnson paints with a broad, confident, springy, heavily loaded brush. The effect can be mesmerizing, even Titianeseque; or infuriating. The History must be sipped carefully, respectfully, warily. It is a book that demands to be challenged and argued with. Yet there is no one with whom I would rather argue. “The medieval cathedrals of Europe,” says Johnson, “are the greatest accomplishments of humanity in the whole theater of art.” That sort of statement is what Paul Johnson is for; what art-history books ought to be for. It is not only bolder but truer than the typical heavily-hedged academic pronouncement. No statement loaded with qualifiers can get up enough speed to leap the wide gap between the everyday commonplace and the life-expanding truth. But Johnson leaps that gap all the time, and makes it look easy. He is, after all, the most eminent thinker to write art history in our time.