Tom Lehrer is 80

by Kieran Healy on April 11, 2008

I am responsible for the Ayn Rand/charity beat at Crooked Timber and here’s another story on the subject. This really doesn’t look like it’s going to end up well. A large charitable foundation attached to a bank has given the University of North Carolina Charlotte, among others a donation in return for making “Atlas Shrugged” compulsory reading. Most tragic rationalisation:

BB&T donated $500,000 last year to Johnson C. Smith University to help endow a professorship on capitalism and free markets, with lessons including “Atlas Shrugged.” It’s the fourth endowed chair at the historically black college in Charlotte.

“I don’t believe I have to advocate that people accept Ayn Rand’s philosophy,” said Patricia Roberson-Saunders, who holds the chair. Roberson-Saunders, who will present Rand with other texts, said students will benefit from reading about a world view held by “people with whom they will have to work and for whom they will have to work.”

[click to continue…]

Faint praise and damnations

by Henry on April 11, 2008

Doug Feith, the “stupidest fucking guy on the face of the planet”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Douglas_Feith, has a new book out, and the “back cover blurbs”:http://marcambinder.theatlantic.com/archives/2008/04/advance_praise_for_war_and_dec.php are … interesting. Says Jean Edward Smith

“The fact that the policy to which he contributed was flawed from the outset in no way diminishes the historical importance of this firsthand account.”

Robert Gallucci, who hired Feith as a professor of practice at my alma mater, Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service, against “vehement faculty opposition”:http://www.iht.com/articles/2006/05/25/news/teach.php, is scarcely more enthusiastic.

“Douglas Feith has written what will be a controversial book. It will certainly anger many readers because it takes a different position that most other accounts on the wisdom of going to war in Iraq, on what mistakes were made, and on what made them. But Feith’s is a serious work, well-documented, that presents the best defense to date of the defining policy of the Bush presidency. It is a readable account that deserves to be read and its argument debated.”

Nor is Henry Kissinger precisely fulsome in his praises (and if you’ve lost Henry Kissinger …)

“The fullest and most thoughtful statement of the Pentagon thinking prior to and in the first stages of the Iraq war. Even those, as I, who take issue with some of its conclusions will gain a better perspective from reading this book.”

And these were the blurbs they chose to promote the book …

More generally, consider this an open thread on dubious blurbs and promotional snippets taken from book reviews. My favourite example of the latter being the Irish Times‘ review of Iain Banks’ _The Wasp Factory._ (“Powells”:http://www.powells.com/partner/29956/s?kw=Iain%20Banks%20the%20Wasp%20Factory, “Amazon”:http://www.amazon.com/gp/redirect.html?ie=UTF8&location=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.amazon.com%2FWasp-Factory-Novel-Iain-Banks%2Fdp%2F0684853159%3Fie%3DUTF8%26s%3Dbooks%26qid%3D1207883741%26sr%3D8-1&tag=henryfarrell-20&linkCode=ur2&camp=1789&creative=9325 )

It is a sick, sick world when the confidence and investment of an astute firm of publishers is justified by a work of unparallelled depravity. There is no denying the bizarre fertility of the author’s imagination: his brilliant dialogue, his cruel humour, his repellent inventiveness. The majority of the literate public, however, will be relieved that only reviewers are obliged to look at any of it.

How could you possibly, possibly refuse to buy a book with a blurb like that?