Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Best American Essays (2010) - Review

This is my second Best American Essays book to read, and I loved both of them.  The most valuable part of this book series is that it exposes me to good thoughts and good writers I would not otherwise encounter.
Here's how the series works.  Robert Atwan (the series editor) - and I presume a massive team of interns - comb through nearly every literary magazine or journal printed in the USA for the best stuff written that year.  That list includes 100-200 articles.  Then, each year, they choose a celebrity author to be the guest editor, who culls that massive selection into 20 or so for the book. 
This year's guest editor was Christopher Hitchens, the famous atheist who wrote God Is Not Great.  I was a little concerned that the essays might be overly hostile to Christianity or religion, but that was not the case.  The selection was surprisingly neutral and occasionally positive in that regard. 
The topics showed an amazingly wide scope: a Tolstoy scholar with a theory that he was murdered, a necrophiliac murdering lion, eyeballs, Einstein's impact on the American Jewish community, the French philosopher Montaigne, Marion Barry - the crack smoking DC mayor, Brooklyn, human genomics, John Updike, a beautiful theory on Van Gogh's true illness written by someone who has chronic spells of dizziness, multiculturalism, Central Asia's history as the intellectual center of the world, Bill Buckley - the founder of The National Review, and George Orwell's classist battle. 
I feel like a more intelligent, more informed person for reading this book.  Perhaps there's a bit of narcissism in there feeding my desire for this kind of book, but perhaps there is also a genuine desire to see and to understand our world.  Hoping toward that end, I give this a strong Josh rating of: JJJJ (out of 5).

To skip to the 2011 book, try this one:
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