Friday, October 7, 2011

Jim is observing the Columbus Day weekend. His recent reading has included Adam Hochschild's To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918. By this point, it's hard to tell a compelling new version of the First World War, as it's a topic that's been as thoroughly mined as a northeastern French meadow. But Hochschild, author of the magnificent King Leopold's Ghost (on the 19th century Belgian ivory trade) and Bury the Chains (on the 18th century abolition movement in England) is a historical magician. As with these previous books, he takes a biographically-based approach that looks closely at people who have fallen off the main historical track, and resituates them in their worlds in vivid new ways. In this case, he portrays both those who supported the Great War in England, as well as the equally, if not more, courageous people who opposed it. Sometimes there were surprising ties between such people, who in a couple instances came from the same family. In the process, the past comes to life in a vivid new way.

Hochschild is the Steely Dan of contemporary historical writing: he takes offbeat progressions, and with consummate technique creates musical prose that's simply irresistible. Everything he writes is as good as gold. No one makes reading more fun.

Best to all for a relaxing holiday, with sorrowful thanks for the world Christopher Columbus wrought to make us possible.