This Living Hand: And Other Essays

This Living Hand: And Other Essays

by Edmund Morris


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When the multitalented biographer Edmund Morris (who writes with equal virtuosity about Theodore Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan, Beethoven, and Thomas Edison) was a schoolboy in colonial Kenya, one of his teachers told him, “You have the most precious gift of all—originality.” That quality is abundantly evident in this selection of essays. They cover forty years in the life of a maverick intellectual who can be, at whim, astonishingly provocative, self-mockingly funny, and richly anecdotal. (The title essay, a tribute to Reagan in cognitive decline, is poignant in the extreme.)
Whether Morris is analyzing images of Barack Obama or the prose style of President Clinton, or exploring the riches of the New York Public Library Dance Collection, or interviewing the novelist Nadine Gordimer, or proposing a hilarious “Diet for the Musically Obese,” a continuous cross-fertilization is going on in his mind. It mixes the cultural pollens of Africa, Britain, and the United States, and  propogates hybrid flowers—some fragrant, some strange, some a shock to conventional sensibilities.
Repeatedly in This Living Hand, Morris celebrates the physicality of artistic labor, and laments the glass screen that today’s e-devices interpose between inspiration and execution. No presidential biographer has ever had so literary a “take” on his subjects: he discerns powers of poetic perception even in the obsessively scientific Edison. Nor do most writers on music have the verbal facility to articulate, as Morris does, what it is about certain sounds that soothe the savage breast. His essay on the pathology of Beethoven’s deafness breaks new ground in suggesting that tinnitus may explain some of the weird aural effects in that composer’s works. Masterly monographs on the art of biography, South Africa in the last days of apartheid, the romance of the piano, and the role of imagination in nonfiction are juxtaposed with enchanting, almost unclassifiable pieces such as “The Bumstitch: Lament for a Forgotten Fruit” (Morris suspects it may have grown in the Garden of Eden); “The Anticapitalist Conspiracy: A Warning” (an assault on The Chicago Manual of Style); “Nuages Gris: Colors in Music, Literature, and Art”; and the uproarious “Which Way Does Sir Dress?”, about ordering a suit from the most expensive tailor in London.
Uniquely illustrated with images that the author describes as indispensable to his creative process, This Living Hand is packed with biographical insights into such famous personalities as Daniel Defoe, Henry Adams, Mark Twain, Evelyn Waugh,  Truman Capote, Glenn Gould, Jasper Johns, W. G. Sebald, and Winnie the Pooh—not to mention a gallery of forgotten figures whom Morris lovingly restores to “life.” Among these are the pianist Ferruccio Busoni, the poet Edwin Arlington Robinson, the novelist James Gould Cozzens, and sixteen so-called “Undistinguished Americans,” contributors to an anthology of anonymous memoirs published in 1902.
Reviewing that book for The New Yorker, Morris notes that even the most unlettered persons have, on occasion, “power to send forth surprise flashes, illuminating not only the dark around them but also more sophisticated shadows—for example, those cast by public figures who will not admit to private failings, or by philosophers too cerebral to state a plain truth.” The author of This Living Hand is not an ordinary person, but he too sends forth surprise flashes, never more dazzlingly than in his final essay, “The Ivo Pogorelich of Presidential Biography.”

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780812983227
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 12/10/2013
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 528
Sales rank: 356,750
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

Edmund Morris was born and educated in Kenya and went to college in South Africa. He worked as an advertising copywriter in London before immigrating to the United States in 1968. His first book, The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award in 1980. Its sequel, Theodore Rex, won the Los Angeles Times Award for Biography in 2002. In between these two books, Morris became President Reagan’s authorized biographer, and published the national bestseller Dutch: A Memoir of Ronald Reagan. More recently he has written Beethoven: The Universal Composer and completed his Theodore Roosevelt trilogy with Colonel Roosevelt. Edmund Morris lives in New York City and Kent, Connecticut, with his wife and fellow biographer, Sylvia Jukes Morris.

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Table of Contents

Preface xvii

The Bumstitch: Lament for a Forgotten Fruit 3

How I Escaped Death by Snakebite: and Lived to Write About Beethoven 7

The Ccurfew Ttolis The Knell of Ppparting Day: Remembering Mr. Atkinson 9

The Last Snows of Kilimanjaro: A Lament 13

A Ghostly Tour with Tr: The Badlands of North Dakota 16

Documenting The Intangible: The New York Public Library's Dance Collection 24

Heard Melodies are Sweet, But Those Unheard are Sweeter: A Low-Calorie Diet for the Musically Obese 28

Theodore Roosevelt The Polygon: Address at the National Portrait Gallery 32

The Line of Concern: An Interview with Nadine Gordimer 51

A Strangeness in the Sight: The Shadow World of Tom Bostelle 56

The Pen is Mightier Than The Smith Corona: Typing and the Murder of Style 64

Music V. Musicology: Sir Donald Francis Tovey, Counsel for the Defense 68

Land of Lost Content: South Africa Revisited in the Last Days of Apartheid 76

Theodore Roosevelt The Writer: Colloquium at the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars 95

Telling Lives: A Biographer's Quest for Temps Perdu 126

The Idea of North: Glenn Gould's Search for Solitude 132

A Hundred and Forty-Four Merlins: Britain's Imperial War Museum 136

We Came to America: The Irrevocable Act of Emigration 142

The Portraitist's Shadow: Biography as an Art 150

The Anticapitalist Conspiracy: A Warning 162

Every Sliver of Inlay Had to Fit: The Early Artistry of Evelyn Waugh 169

The Pain of Falling Leaves: Capitol Hill Loses a Tree 175

An Old Man Ought to be Sad: The Logical Life of Mr. Justice Holmes 180

The Ivory and The Ebony: Pianists and the Romantic Imagination 185

Women in White: The Memoirs of Laure Junot, Duchesse d'Abrantès 199

Undistinguished Americans: Short and Simple Annals of the Poor 210

Hunters of The Wild Guffaw: The Oxford Book of Humorous Prose 218

Which Way Does Sir Dress?: A Semicentennial Visit to Savile Row 229

The Rolling Tape Records, and Having Recorded, Rolls on: In support of Janet Malcolm in Masson v. New Yorker 237

From This Session Interdict: On the Eve of Another Presidential Inauguration 243

In Memoriam Christine Reagan: The President's Forgotten Daughter 247

This Living Hand: Ronald Reagan's Farewell Letter 251

Rock. Turf. Water. Lava. Sky.: Reykjavík in Retrospect 259

The Bill and Teddy Show: Mr. Clinton's Latest Presidential Performance 270

A Darwinian For Fun: The Evolutionary Education of Henry Adams 274

Pooh to You, Mr. Mayor: and Here's Fuzz in Your Eye, Mr. Prime Minister 284

A Certain Silliness: Ten Literati Choose the Century's Greatest English Novels 287

Bill Liar: Proceedings of an extraordinary meeting of the Ananias Club, 19 August 1998. Theodore Roosevelt, chairman. Agenda: Admission to membership of President William Jefferson Clinton 292

Here Comes Old Rushing Starlight: The Writing Life 296

Inside Jefferson's Cerebellum: The Library of Congress 300

Intellectual Integrity: The Novels of James Gould Cozzens 307

Sensitive Signage: Washington's Equal-Opportunity Airport 317

A Steady Hiss of Corn: The Letters of Ronald Reagan 320

Colonizing Outside of Cultivation: The Logical Fantasy of John Wyndham 326

Dot's and Dash's: Lynne Truss's Punctuation Primer 333

Leavings of a Life: Ronald Wilson Reagan, 1911-2004 337

Lady of Letters: Living with Sylvia Jukes Morris 355

A Musical offering: Bach and Fredrick the Great in the Age of Enlightenment 365

Contrapuntal Combat: Beethoven's Great Fugue 370

Wood and Wool: The Making of a Steinway Concert Grand 374

A Nation Full of Will: Kent School Connecticut Centennial Address, 2006 378

Nuages Gris: Colors in Music, Literature, and Art 387

The Other Side of Silence: Beethoven's Deafness 399

The African Obama: The Prepresidential Photographs of Pete Souza 413

As Much of a Monologue as Possible: Theodore Roosevelt at 150 417

Voice, Or Ventriloquism: Language and the Presidency 422

The Adventures of Sam Clemens: Or, the Autobiography of Mark Twain 429

Edison Illuminated: The "Life & Phenomenon" of an Inventor 435

The Ivo Pogorelich of Presidential Biography: Writing Dutch 442

Acknowledgments and Permissions 477

Illustration Credits 479

Index 481

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

“A sterling collection of essays from the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winner.”—Kirkus Reviews
“Effortless, hasty, tasty, autobiographical, strange, surprising, twisting, graceful, rich, beautiful, haunting, and devastating.”—The Daily Beast
“Excellent . . . Morris’s prose is precise and engaging; his wit and thoughtfulness make for lively and often moving reading.”—Publishers Weekly

Customer Reviews