U.S. Intellectual History Blog

Lauren’s Light Listening

I heard in today’s NY Times Book Review podcast an interesting interview of Alan Brinkley about his new biography of Henry Luce. I used James Agee’s Let Us Now Praise Famous Men for a Historical Methods course once–it was a great book to discuss the difficulties of truth seeking. Agee wrote it will working on the Fortune staff.

The executive editor of the Times, Bill Keller reviewed the book in this weekend’s Times. A snippet:

His Luce is a complicated figure, more tragic than malign. That is not to say this is a particularly flattering profile. The book does full justice to Luce’s outsider insecurity, his blind affinity for men of power and his defects as a family man. But it is a humanizing portrayal, and it credits the role his magazines, Time and Life especially, played in a country growing uneasily into the dominant geopolitical force in the world. Luce’s publications served as a kind of cultural adhesive that bound the middle class to a shared understanding of the world and ushered it through periods of war and economic hardship. It’s hard to imagine any outlet playing such a role in today’s dis­aggregated media environment.

The podcast also contains a story about a biography of Muriel Spark, a novelist I hadn’t heard of, but who sounds like someone I’d like to check out. She at first gave the biographer complete access to all her stuff and said “treat me as if I were dead.” But then she hated the book and held up it’s publication for years.