Monday, May 29, 2006

Brinkley's Katrina book

Wilfred McClay has a scathing review of Douglas Brinkley's latest book-of-the-month:
The Great Deluge: Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, and the Mississippi Gulf Coast is the historian Douglas Brinkley's bid for literary and historical greatness. * * *

One can be excused for wondering from the outset whether enough time has passed for anything of this epic scale to be written about these tragic and infuriating events - or whether Mr. Brinkley is the man for the job. Let me confess that I haven't read all of the writings of Douglas Brinkley. I doubt that anyone -- perhaps not even Mr. Brinkley himself -- has ever done that. He is a veritable ... deluge of literary productivity, with books to his credit on a dizzying array of subjects, ranging from Beat poetry to Jimmy Carter, and from Henry Ford to, most recently, the failed Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry. Indeed, the range of his literary productions is so wide as to seem indiscriminate. But his bestknown writings seem to have three things in common.

First and foremost is their relentless mediocrity. I cannot think of a historian or public intellectual who has managed to make himself so prominent in American public life without having put forward a single memorable idea, a single original analysis, or a single lapidary phrase -- let alone without publishing a book that has had any discernable impact. Mr. Brinkley is, to use Daniel Boorstin's famous words, a historian famous for being well-known.


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