The Esolen Option

If we don’t like the way of life around us, why not live differently?  Why go along with something so inhuman and unrewarding?  So asks Anthony Esolen in his new book.

Good criticism calls for a conception of what should be as well as an analysis of what is.  Esolen provides both.  Like any social critic he explains what’s wrong with our current way of life, and does it very well.  His special contribution, though, is his description of basic aspects of life whose normal functioning could once be taken for granted: education, civic life, popular amusements, everyday craftsmanship, the world of boyhood, the dance of the sexes—what they have been, how they have lost their way, and why it is possible and necessary for them to return to type.

He writes passionately, eloquently, and concretely, drawing illustrations from a variety of sources: on the one hand, the current scene; on the other, family recollections, 19th-century pictures, scenes from Homer and Shakespeare, old civic buildings from small-town Pennsylvania and Nova Scotia.  He has the sense of the connection between grand principle and everyday particularities to be looked for in a translator of Dante, so his illustrations hit home.

True to the title, he also provides suggestions for resistance and counterattack.  They are mostly simple and obvious: Clear your mind...

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