Daniel Aaron

Daniel Aaron an emeritus professor of Harvard University, is the author of Writers on the Left and of Men of Good Hope, and editor of Studies in Biography.

Heavenly Cities

Daniel Aaron, 10 October 1991

For the last thirty years Richard Sennett – urban sociologist, historian, novelist – has been meditating on the culture and ecology of industrial cities: on how they evolved, on how their physical organisation and social structure related to the psychological and moral experiences of their inhabitants. More pointedly than his previous books, The Conscience of the Eye, he says, aims to show the interactions between the ‘architectural, urban planning, public sculpture, and the visual scenes of the city’ and its ‘cultural life’.’

Portrait of a Failure

Daniel Aaron, 25 January 1990

Henry Adams is a rare bird in American letters: rich, autonomous, and socially unassailable; descendant of Presidents, secure within the genteel Establishment, yet holding himself aloof from it; historian of his country, toward which he felt a proprietary concern; and, by his own reckoning, ‘a failure in politics and literature, in society and in solitude, in hatred and in love’. For many intellectuals, The Education of Henry Adams defined their predicament. They relished its irony, learning and worldly tone, and saw in Adams’s gloomy appraisal of his age and its prospects a corroboration of their discontents. Today his catastrophic imagination is tuned to current fears, and he continues to draw strong responses from both admirers and detractors.

Crop Masters

Daniel Aaron, 19 January 1989

Some thirty years ago, as he ploughed through hundreds of pamphlets on the Anglo-American conflict published in the colonies before 1776, Bernard Bailyn was struck by the excitement with which their authors spoke about what were for him ‘the common-places of liberal thought of their time’. How to explain their apparently inexhaustible appetite for the ideas and rhetoric of late 17th and 18th-century British political oppositionists? The mélange of dissident opinion now subsumed under the rubric of ‘radical Country ideology’ stigmatised the Walpole Government as a corrupt power-grabbing conspiracy against popular liberties. This pessimistic Country vision of a commercial England’s political and moral decline between 1675 and 1725 evoked small concern in the general population, but it provided American revolutionists with a schema.

Clytie’s Legs

Daniel Aaron, 2 May 1985

Eudora Welty’s fictional territory stretches as far as the Northern States of her native America, and to Europe too, but its heartland is Jackson, Mississippi and its environs, a country more accessible and neighbourly than Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha. The dust and heat are the same, the people comparably rooted and earthy. Yet Faulkner’s South, for all of its authentic particularity, is a space larger than life in which a magnified cast of performers carry out fated acts. His stores, work-places, forests, houses, monuments, jails and churches are the setting for a sprawling historical spectacle that violently unfolds to the accompaniment of rhetorical music.

Seventeen Million Words

Richard Poirier, 7 November 1985

On 5 December 1963, the day Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald in Dallas, a man in Boston named Arthur Inman, having made several earlier attempts on his own life, managed to put a bullet through...

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