TNR on Books

The New Republic Online has posted a spate of book reviews recently and I thought I might bring them to your attention. I believe some of them require subscription so if you can’t read them in their entirety I apologize.

Howard’s End by Robert Alter looks at Zadie Smith’s On Beauty. Alter finds much to praise in Smith but feels the novel doesn’t quite come together in the end:

Finally On Beauty is an odd mixture–alternately amusing, perceptive, even emotionally absorbing, with some of the narrative zest of White Teeth, and then too often schematic, insistent, or simply not quite credible. The American academic setting, which Smith knows but perhaps not well enough, and the emulation of Howard’s End, which is an interesting idea that does not altogether fit this fictional world, may have led her astray. As a novelist, she can marshal shrewd understanding, stylistic flair, vivid description, and a lively sense of comedy. All this may yet enable her to produce great fiction, but On Beauty is still far from that.

Combined Efforts by Alexander M. Belenky tackles Bait and Switch by Barbara Ehrenreich. Mr. Belenky is not too impressed:

The book’s title, Bait and Switch, refers to Ehrenreich’s argument that corporate management entices its workers to climb the corporate ladder, sacrificing their humanity for security and status, only to eventually lose their jobs. But the true bait and switch is the book itself, which promises insights into the work experience of corporate middle management but explores only the pathetic, exploited, compulsive, and self-deluded lives of job-seekers.

Mrs. America by Alan Wolfe looks at Phyllis Schlafly and Grassroots Conservatism: A Woman’s Crusade By Donald T. Critchlow. Wolfe is hopelessly biased. Conservatives are racist, anti-semitic, misogynist, and generally bad people:

Conservatism was in large part a revolt by whites against the aspirations of blacks, and whatever success it enjoyed was a by-product of the backlash that it generated.

Wolfe excoriates Critchlow for not sharing this view:

It was a stroke of considerable inventiveness for Critchlow to persuade Schlafly to cooperate with him. Too bad that the book he produced is dreadful. Critchlow is right to insist on Schlafly’s influence–but influence is a neutral category. It may be a force for good or a force for ill, depending upon the ideas that animate it. Let it be said of Phyllis Schlafly that every idea she had was scatter-brained, dangerous, and hateful. The more influential she became, the worse off America became. But Critchlow can barely bring himself to lift his eyes from the Schlafly papers long enough to examine her views with anything approaching a critical perspective. Critchlow is by no means a leftist academic historian implacably hostile to his right-wing subject. Quite the contrary. His book is fair and balanced, in the Fox News sense of those terms. Not even saints should be admired as much as Critchlow worships Schlafly, and Schlafly is not a saint.

I haven’t read the book so I can’t comment on Wolfe’s more subject orientated critiques but his hatred of conservatism is so overwhelming that you can’t take his views seriously. Wolfe is calling not for scholarship but advocacy.

About the author

Kevin Holtsberry

I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season – oh, and watching golf too).

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1 Comment

  • I urge you (and your readers) to read Phyllis Schlafly and Grassroots Conservatism. A close reading of my book belies Wolfe’s biased assertions that the grassroots Right was founded on racism and religious intolerance. In writing the book, I was given exclusive access to Phyllis Schlafly’s papers, without editorial control, and I supplemented these extensive records with research at over sixty other archival collections of other conservatives and her opponents.

    I place Schlafly and other female conservative activists within a long tradition of moral republican sentiment derived from Christian and Enlightenment thought. I show how this tradition informed those grassroots conservative activists in the post-World War II period in their successful efforts to transform American political order. Wolfe reflects a general inability or unwillingness of many on the Left to understand how people create alternative world views.

    Thanks for your comments.
    Don Critchlow

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