Review: ‘The Club: Johnson, Boswell, And The Friends Who Shaped An Age


What began as an admirable effort to show the wide ranging influence of an eighteenth century London club whose members included Samuel Johnson, James Boswell, David Garrick, Edmund Burke, Adam Smith, Joshua Reynolds, and Edward Gibbon rapidly devolved into an unsatisfying biography of Boswell and Johnson.

On the other hand, I learned that the classic nursery rhyme, ‘Do you know the muffin man,’ likely has salacious organization and I was inspired to do some googling and found that you can rent Boswell’s ancestral Scottish manse for your holiday.

Good Day – Book Art & Contemporary Political Art


I went into the office on a Sunday because I simply couldn’t believe that over the course of four and a half day holiday weekend I hadn’t received any work emails (I hadn’t but then again, our systems were being spotty and people claimed to have tried to send me documents).

Upon discovering that my fears were groundless and having already found parking downtown, I decided to spend a little flaneur time.

First, the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

The museum was not only free that day but featured a Book Art Festival, which is a fancy way of saying that young, creative types set up tables with their zines and chapbooks and letterpress creations.

Naturally, I bought five books. One of those books was a book of art reproductions created in the wake of Trump’s election which leads to my next fortuitous encounter.

While walking to Chinatown in search of noodles, I passed by a sign that pointed through a door and up some stairs to the Center for Contemporary Political Art.

Important, Too


So, I am still returning to Thomas Jefferson, this time with Ta-Nehisi Coates or, at least, with his recent congressional testimony on the issue of reparations. I am not going to go into that issue, which may represent a kind of cowardice on my part, but I do want to flag one line that I can’t shake:

That if Thomas Jefferson matters, so does Sally Hemings.

‘Thomas Jefferson: The Art Of Power’ By Jon Meacham


Did I need to read another Jefferson book? Probably not. My fifth in the last two years, though the first traditional biography (the others being guided by conceits or else by Christopher Hitchens and so read to understand him rather than Jefferson).

No. What I need to do and what I have started to do is read Jefferson’s own writings.

It’s a good biography, don’t mistake me, but my interest is in his thinking and as the founder or spiritual godfather of a certain Americans intellectual tradition, not in his use of power. Though, it should be noted that I am not sure that this book actually does all that much to explain Jefferson’s view of the art of power. I think it was settled upon more because it was a cool title than a genuine descriptor of the book’s unique contribution. But an important though not unique note: …we see that Jefferson the practical politician was a more powerful persona than Jefferson the moral theorist. [478]

In terms of things I gained from the reading, I did appreciate hearing Meacham’s perspective, such as his defense of Jefferson’s behavior as governor of Virginia for a few years during the Revolution.

PS – Happy Father’s Day, everyone.

Bret Easton Ellis In The LRB


Just going to briefly make a pitch in favor of reading James Walcott’s article on Bret Easton Ellis in the May 23 edition of the London Review of Books. Technically, it is a review of his latest book, White, but a nice and balanced and clear eyed appraisal of his career, recognition of the value and failure of books like American Psycho, and taking a nuanced look at his late career shift as a middle aged, conservative, would-be provocateur. It even made me less angered by his wrongheaded and shallow retorts to younger generations.

The Fifth Risk


I’m done. I’m done reading the nonfiction of the Trump area. I never used to read ‘current events’ because the facts become dated so quickly and the analysis appears facile mere months later. I should return to that stance having read two Trump books this year.

The Fifth Risk is a book of brief biographies of immensely intelligent, talented, and important people rendered useless by a series of incompetent and malicious appointees without the least desire of what government agencies do (Do you know that the main responsibility of the Department of Energy is making sure that nuclear materials and technology don’t fall into the wrong hands? Because no one in the Trump administration did and probably no one still does.).

In terms of Trump appointees, like Gary Cohn and Rob Porter in Woodward’s Fear, anyone who is not actively trying to destroy the Republic through Sith Lord levels of malice or Star Wars prequels levels of raw stupidity becomes a de facto hero and while I believe it, I… I… I just can’t. I can’t.

I’m reading Gore Vidal and another biography of Thomas Jefferson now because I refuse to spend any more time, for the time being, amongst such stupid, stupid people.

Williamsburg & Yorktown


A lovely bookstore on the Yorktown riverfront. I bought a copy of Jefferson’s selected writings.

From the Yorktown Battlefield visitor’s center; according to tradition, the campaign table of General Lord Cornwallis.

The Yorktown Victory Monument

The rather martial foyer of the Governor’s Palace

I just enjoyed seeing a book edited by the notable leftist historians, Eric Foner, in a government building in the Age of Trump (not that Foner does not deserve his place; his multivolume history of Reconstruction is still the gold standard).

My continued dialogue with the idea of Jefferson

The Charlton Coffeehouse is my favorite stop in Colonial Williamsburg. When I asked about this (initially thinking that Mr. Mercer might have been engaging in some civil disobedience), the “player” turned out to be quite knowledgeable and told me about how Mercer was accosted and assaulted by an angry mob and then submitted this the next day; she also told me about another, similar incident involving a tax collector in Pennsylvania.

The coffeehouse

Outside the Governor’s Palace

Inside the Governor’s Palace

We visited Colonial Williamsburg and made a brief stop in Yorktown to visit the Yorktown Battlefield and to, ahem, check out a bookstore. I have continued to read (and feel conflicted) about Thomas Jefferson and was disappointed that the Raleigh Tavern wasn’t open, because it featured prominently in Jefferson’s life while studying in Williamsburg, including being where the Virginia House of Burgesses met after being officially dissolved by the Royal Governor.