"I can't remember when I've learned as much from something I've reador laughed as much while doing it."Jacob Weisberg, Slate
Finally in paperback after six hardcover printings, this international bestseller is an encyclopedic A-Z masterpiecethe perfect introduction to the very core of Western humanism. Clive James rescues, or occasionally destroys, the careers of many of the greatest thinkers, humanists, musicians, artists, and philosophers of the twentieth century. Soaring to Montaigne-like heights, Cultural Amnesia is precisely the book to burnish these memories of a Western civilization that James fears is nearly lost.
Born in Australia, Clive James lives in Cambridge, England. He is the author of Unreliable Memoirs; a volume of selected poems, Opal Sunset; the best-selling Cultural Amnesia; and the translator of The Divine Comedy by Dante. He has written for the New York Times Book Review, The New Yorker, and The Atlantic. He is an Officer of the Order of Australia and a Commander of the Order of the British Empire.
Cultural Amnesia: Necessary Memories from History and the Arts 3.9 out of 5based on
anna_in_pdx on LibraryThing
More than 1 year ago
This was a book both provoking and thought-provoking. I'm both an unreconstructed leftist and a tiers-mondiste (having lived much of my adult life in developing countries) and Clive James is an unapologetic cheerleader for the West. He's also a great writer, and a lover of books. Richard Mitchell once wrote that truly good books are those that make you look up from the page and ponder what you have just read. I did this repeatedly with Cultural Amnesia.James understands nuance and complexity, being a nuanced and complex writer himself. His best essays in this book were the ones about fellow critics, such as Reich-Raniki. I also enjoyed how his essays started off centered around a particular person but went off on interesting tangents such as the history of the tango. I found it difficult to identify with the primacy that James gives World War II in this book. I believe that this is probably because I was born in 1968, and it is probably my loss rather than James', but there were many times where I could see his discussion covering what was becoming very familiar ground about whether the intellectual in question had been sufficiently against fascism or sufficiently against Soviet communism. I was also disappointed in his facile Islamophobia (he quotes approvingly from O. Fallaci, C. Hitchens et al and seems to accept them at face value, while being quite critical of someone like Edward Said). I also thought it was amazing that he managed to ignore leftists who didn't commit the "being too pro-Soviet" sin such as Chomsky, who in spite of being ignored by James, had an unmistakeable impact on 20th century thought.Overall, however, this book taught me an incredible amount about the 20th century and some of the amazing people it contained. I plan to purchase this book at some point so that I can browse it whenever I like and re-read my favorite essays.
lriley on LibraryThing
More than 1 year ago
Not that I agree with everything that James has to say (though mostly I do) in this book of bios and essays but this is articlulated so well and his subjects and subject matter cover such a broad spectrum of (mostly) 20th century persons and events that it strikes me almost as a must read for anyone trying to make sense of the recent past. He does fall down in places. A highlight was the Sophie Scholl passage at least until he started going on about the actress Natalie Portman he would like to see play Scholl on film. He does tend to go off on tangents respective to his subjects--though mostly to better effect than the one mentioned above. As well I like that though many of his bios are about very famous people--a lot aren't and he covers some very famous great writers Camus, Kafka, Borges as well as some not so famous great writers who maybe should be more famous--Sabato and Gombrowicz.There is a political thing going on as well. James' views are pretty close in some respects to my own. At least if I've got him right he is a non-believer--a humanist person of the left, anti-totalitarian, anti-communist, an idealist who would like to see societies learn from the past and build themselves into pragmatic and always tolerant nations. I know--good luck with that--but you got to have goals anyway. Anyway beyond everything else this is a fun book to read even if many of the subjects die horribly at the hands of totalitarian forces--particularly the Nazi Germans and the Russian Communists. James is a wonderful writer--his prose always moving at a nice steady clip--carrying the reader along safely through a maze of streets and avenues--some very dangerous--like the most engaging tour guide you may ever know. Anyway thanks to John in Ottawa who sent me this book. Definitely recommended.
Makereta on LibraryThing
More than 1 year ago
I have always admired Clive James. While being of quite similar political mien, I don't always completely agree with his arguments. Nevertheless, I find his writing and his huge appetite for both words and life hugely attractive. Naturally, not everyone will like his peculiar mixture of archness, verbosity, and barely disguised Australian sense of irony. But even if James' writing-style doesn't suit your palate, do try to ignore those mannerisms that irritate you and concentrate instead on the scope of his achievement in bringing together all these not-quite-but-just-about-lost figures from civilisation's history and seating them all at the same banquet. Here, they can converse, and argue in the hall of our consciousness once again. I for one, was so relieved to read this book and savour it essay by essay and to think: "Someone has remembered to remind ME how to remember!"Immersed in the suburbs as I have become, it is still shocking how quickly the combined clamour of CNN, Sky TV, conglomerate advertising, and pop-psychology can deafen the ears of even those who wish to hear tales of whence our civilisation and various cultures have truly evolved from. Thank you, Clive James. It was nice to listen to something with real timbre, an interesting beat, and recognisable melodies for a change.
jorgearanda on LibraryThing
More than 1 year ago
A collection of insightful but snobbish essays, mainly about personalities from the 20th Century, and mainly revolving around World War II and its implications. The essays' quality and content range from the genial, through the irrelevant, and into the irritating --James has a frustrating knack for driving the discussion towards completely unwarranted topics. I can't recommend it, although I enjoyed reading several of its pieces.
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