Monday, May 18, 2009

What I'm reading now

I am reading War & Peace and dipping into Benedetta Craveri's Age of Conversation when the mood takes me.

I was seduced into enlisting here by an "almost promise" that we might all read and discuss
Tocqueville's Democracy in America one of these days.


  1. Good Evening, Chartres. It's been a long time. I look forward to our discussion of Lincoln as you are one of the real experts on the subject. I'd read DEMOCRACY IN AMERICA anytime anybody is ready to do so.

    (You'll lose your mind if you persist in reading WAR AND PEACE. Nobody who has ever read it is ever quite right again. You'll need therapy)

  2. Me, too! I've never read Democracy in America (although I did listen to it once on tape).

    Robert, you're probably right about War and Peace. As I told Chartres, I read it as my reward for studying for a full year for my doctoral exams. I so wanted to lose myself in a big messy novel for a change. How was I to know it was a big messy work of historiography? Live and learn (although I did love reading it - what a book!).

    And yes, it's great to have Chartres here. It does feel like old times. And I second your wish that she'll join us on Lincoln. After all, she's the one who got me down this Lincoln track in the first place.

  3. I've been in therapy off and on since 1962, Robert. A little Tolstoy won't hurt me much.

  4. We had a good discussion of Democracy in America back in the old NYT Am History days. Can't say I really want to return to it, as I had a lot of qualms with De Toqueville's view of America at the time. But, the recent Brogan biography sounds interesting,

    "Brogan argues, convincingly, that part of Tocqueville's personality was forever rooted in the old aristocratic world that his mind told him was dying. That internal contradiction proved an invaluable intellectual asset when he visited the United States in 1831-32 and began to draft Democracy in America, for it gave his analysis of the genuinely new political chemistry congealing in America a dramatic edge. What Jefferson had called "self-evident" was for Tocqueville a historically unprecedented development destined to topple all the monarchies of Europe and the kind of aristocratic society that had shaped him. This is a potent theme, one that made me think of the overripe ironies of Henry Adams in his famous The Education of Henry Adams, embracing his irrelevancy in the modern world that was aborning. Tocqueville's temperament was less melodramatic than Adams's, but he did recognize that he was a victim of his greatest prophecy, that the triumph of democracy meant the end of his world."

  5. Well, then, if we do decide to read him either as our main book or on the side, you can sneak in and denounce him! Interesting looking biography.

    I don't remember enough about him and his writing to say one way or the other, although I'm skeptical of all this American exceptionalism stuff. In fact, I recently bought a book on the myth of American exceptionalism which I'm looking forward to.

    Wish I would have known about the Times discussion of Toqueville. I came late to those discussions and even then kept mostly to history.

  6. Thanks for the idea, Chartres. Long time! Do you still have the big cat?

    Don't know when I will get to read this, but I just downloaded e-text of Democracy in America for my kindle from Thanks for the idea. I've taken a look at the book many times in stores but never bought it.

  7. Only because you asked, Marti, will I go off topic and say that the present cat population consists of Buster, Jack, Jimmy and Sweetpea indoors.

    The back deck cats are Taffy and Jane and their kittlings: Boris, Nikolai, Andrei, Buttercup and Daisy Mae.

    Now back to the business at hand.

  8. It's always interesting to hear about your cats, Chartres. I take it the kittens are relatively new arrivals, given your current reading.

    And in a similar spirit, I report that I had two pheasants in my backyard yesterday. First time I've ever seen that, but then maybe I'm too busy trying to keep out the deer to notice. I'm also being overwhelmed by hummingbirds.

  9. Chartres, didn't see your answer until today. Thanks for letting me know about the cats and their names. I'm down to one very large cat, Pumpkin, so now she thinks she's queen.

    Avrds: pheasants, deer and hummingbirds, oh my.

    OK that's it for my off-topic remarks, I think.

  10. Marti, it's a jungle out here.