Full piece here.
Schama’s book ‘The American Future: A History‘ here.
Brooks places the book in a long line of “brilliant books,” which by his definition would be:
“…the sort of book written by a big thinker who comes to capture the American spirit while armed only with his own brilliance.”
Or more precisely: intellectually ambitious if not pretentious, and doomed to failure in dealing with the scope of its subject. Only Alexis De Tocqueville perhaps reached the bar he set for himself in Brooks’ opinion. This hasn’t stopped others from trying.
There’s some run-of-the-mill left-bashing here, as Brooks is casting Schama’s in the mold of Bernhard Henri-Levy’s ‘American Vertigo’ (review here at the NY Mag Of Books, the “anti-anti”American).
“In the 1980s, Jean Baudrillard came armed with Theory and set the modern standard by dropping puerile paradoxes from coast to coast: “Americans believe in facts, but not in facticity.” Brilliant! “Here in the most conformist society the dimensions are immoral. It is this immorality that makes distance light and the journey infinite, that cleanses the muscles of their tiredness.” Brilliant!.”
Such quotes serve to highlight Brooks’ point: Those who have tackled the subject often comically reveal their own limits, the limits of their own thinking and experience, and of their chosen mediums. Brooks should know, as he does have a penchant for trying to paint big, somewhat cultural, political, and sociological pictures of American life. Yet, as Schama in particular demonstrates, there are some things he does very well despite his assumptions. In fact, I think he and others are as much trying to address the assumptions and opinions of their own people as much as their subject.
They just may not, perhaps, capture the “spirit of America.”
Related On This Site: Simon Schama’s Power of Art..Scott McLemee At ‘The Nation’ On Bernhard Henri-Levi: Darkness Becomes Him