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Washed White

Michael Rogin

10 June 1993
The Rites of Assent: Transformations in the Symbolic Construction of America 
by Sacvan Bercovitch.
Routledge, 424 pp., £40, November 1992, 9780415900140
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Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words that Remade America 
by Garry Wills.
Simon and Schuster, 315 pp., £17.99, April 1993, 0 671 76956 1
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... and economic decline, of ethnic cleansing, mass rape, communal violence and racial polarisation, Garry Wills and Sacvan Bercovitch proclaim the power of language to transform the world. Against one current fashion, both reject punning and the play of the socially detached signifier: they embed American words in American history. Against another current ...

The Idea of America

Alasdair MacIntyre

6 November 1980
Inventing America: Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence 
by Garry Wills.
Athlone, 398 pp., £12.50, September 1980, 0 485 11201 9
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... Garry Wills has two distinct aims in this book. He wishes to demythologise American beliefs about the Declaration of Independence in order to discredit the view that the United States is founded upon an idea, upon a set of moral beliefs. In so doing, he is trying to refute, not only external commentators such as G ...

Doctor Feelgood

R.W. Johnson

3 March 1988
Reagan’s America: Innocents at Home 
by Garry Wills.
Heinemann, 488 pp., £14.95, February 1988, 0 434 86623 7
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... with them as they come back in body bags, just keep those cameras whirring. Above all, as Garry Wills, points out, Reagan not only tells fairy-tales (informing the Israeli premier of how he had seen the terrible suffering of the Jewish people while filming the concentration camps at the end of the war – when in fact he’d never left ...
7 October 1982
The Kennedy Imprisonment: A Meditation on Power 
by Garry Wills.
Atlantic/Little, Brown, 310 pp., $14.95, February 1982, 0 316 94385 1
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... policies it was demanding. It is around these themes of the 20th-century Presidency in crisis that Garry Wills has spun his crowded, gossipy, acerbic, disorganised, penetrating, repetitious, altogether fascinating tale of the family Kennedy. At its best, The Kennedy Imprisonment is a meditation on Presidential power as prescient as Wilson’s and as ...

Public Virtue

Alasdair MacIntyre

18 February 1982
Explaining America: The ‘Federalist’ 
by Garry Wills.
Athlone, 286 pp., £14.50, August 1981, 0 485 30003 6
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James McCosh and the Scottish Intellectual Tradition 
by David Hoeveler.
Princeton, 374 pp., £13.70, June 1981, 0 691 04670 0
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... Enlightenment which Madison acquired at Princeton from the teaching of John Witherspoon. Professor Garry Wills has now followed Adair and extended his thesis in producing an interpretation of Madison in which the Scottish influence on him has a central place. Wills’s earlier book Inventing America perhaps overstated ...
14 November 1996
The Correspondence of Adam Ferguson 
edited by Vincenzo Merolle.
Pickering & Chatto, 257 pp., £135, October 1995, 1 85196 140 2
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... the making of the Constitution. This view has been widely disseminated – to the liberal left by Garry Wills, to the right by the Liberty Press, in whose catalogue the works of Hume and Smith are found alongside those of the Republic’s founding generations. On both sides of the Atlantic, furthermore, the Scottish science of man is embedded deep in ...

Watering the Dust

James Wood: Saint Augustine

30 September 1999
Saint Augustine 
by Garry Wills.
Weidenfeld, 153 pp., £12.99, August 1999, 0 297 84281 1
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... angle his way towards the discovery that there is an unconscious, that we forget nothing. Garry Wills’s defence of Augustine – for that is what his short biography amounts to – is finely original and often brilliantly convincing. Anyone interested in Augustine, even those who thought they knew a fair amount, will learn from ...

Salute!

Stephen Holmes: ‘Bomb Power’

8 April 2010
Bomb Power: The Modern Presidency and the National Security State 
by Garry Wills.
Penguin Press, 278 pp., $27.95, January 2010, 978 1 59420 240 7
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... as he deems necessary in the interest of national defence’. The ‘nature of the presidency,’ Garry Wills writes, ‘was irrevocably altered by this grant of a unique power’. An uninhibited ‘crisis presidency’ was now ‘poised for hair-trigger response to nuclear threat’ and, by virtue of the president’s ‘sole authority to launch ...
14 May 1992
Modernity and Identity 
edited by Scott Lash and Jonathan Friedman.
Blackwell, 448 pp., £45, January 1992, 0 631 17585 7
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Fundamentalisms Observed 
edited by Martin Marty and Scott Appleby.
Chicago, 872 pp., $40, November 1991, 0 226 50877 3
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The Post-Modern and the Post-Industrial 
by Margaret Rose.
Cambridge, 317 pp., £35, July 1991, 0 521 40131 3
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Under God: Religion and American Politics 
by Garry Wills.
Simon and Schuster, 445 pp., £17.99, February 1992, 0 671 65705 4
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... Francis Shaeffer, a fundamentalist whose influence on anti-abortion activists is chronicled by Garry Wills in Under God. But although some of the more paranoid inhabitants of America’s ivy towers may take such parallels as proof that the traitors within have finally joined forces with the barbarians without, having the same enemy hardly constitutes ...

The Wrong Stuff

Christopher Hitchens

1 April 1983
The Purple Decades 
by Tom Wolfe.
Cape, 396 pp., £8.95, March 1983, 0 224 02944 4
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... more candidly and less attractively as the ‘do-gooder’. In a thoughtful and spirited article, Garry Wills once analysed the selfish commonplaces which underly the anti-do-gooder school. He was in a strong position to do so, having been a star at William F. Buckley’s National Review even while it was heaping praise on Tom Wolfe (as it still ...

Brief Shining Moments

Christopher Hitchens: Donkey Business in the White House

19 February 1998
Pillar of Fire: America in the King Years 1963-65 
by Taylor Branch.
Simon and Schuster, 746 pp., $30, February 1998, 0 684 80819 6
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‘One Hell of a Gamble’: Khrushchev, Castro and Kennedy, 1958-64 
by Aleksandr Fursenko and Timothy Naftali.
Murray, 416 pp., September 1997, 0 7195 5518 3
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The Dark Side of Camelot 
by Seymour Hersh.
HarperCollins, 497 pp., £8.99, February 1998, 9780006530770
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Mutual Contempt: Lyndon Johnson , Bobby Kennedy and the Feud that Defined a Decade 
by Jeff Shesol.
Norton, 591 pp., £23.50, January 1998, 9780393040784
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The Year the Dream Died 
by Jules Witcover.
Warner, 512 pp., £25, June 1997, 0 446 51849 2
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Without Honor: The Impeachment of President Nixon and the Crimes of Camelot 
by Jerry Zeifman.
Thunder's Mouth, 262 pp., $24.95, November 1996, 9781560251286
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The Kennedy Tapes: Inside the White House during the Cuban Missile Crisis 
edited by Ernest May and Philip Zelikow.
Howard, 740 pp., £23.50, September 1997, 0 674 17926 9
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Lyndon B. Johnson’s Vietnam Papers: A Documentary Collection 
edited by David Barrett.
Texas A & M, 906 pp., $94, June 1997, 0 89096 741 5
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Taking Charge: The Johnson Whitehouse Tapes 1963-64 
edited by Michael Beschloss.
Simon and Schuster, 624 pp., £20, April 1998, 0 684 80407 7
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Abuse of Power: The New Nixon Tapes 
edited by Stanley Kutler.
Free Press, 675 pp., $30, November 1997, 0 684 84127 4
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The Other Missiles of October: Eisenhower, Kennedy and the Jupiters, 1957-63 
by Philip Nash.
North Carolina, 231 pp., £34.70, October 1997, 0 8078 4647 3
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... to that obsession. Again, we knew some of this already. In his book The Kennedy Imprisonment, Garry Wills showed elegantly that the Cuba crisis Mark II – the missile confrontation in October 1962 – was intimately connected to the Cuba crisis Mark I – the Bay of Pigs and the incessant American-sponsored covert aggressions. Kennedy knew, in other ...

The Hagiography Factory

Thomas Meaney: Arthur Schlesinger Jr

8 February 2018
Schlesinger: The Imperial Historian 
by Richard Aldous.
Norton, 486 pp., £23.99, November 2017, 978 0 393 24470 0
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... classical liberals coming in from the cold. Third, he showed how to master the rhetoric of what Garry Wills called at the time ‘Bogart liberalism’. He thought American liberals should become ‘hard-boiled’, as opposed to ‘soft’ – like American leftists who had never tested their mettle by wielding power. If you wanted to fight the excesses ...

Subject, Spectator, Phantom

J. Hoberman: The Strangest Personality Ever to Lead the Free World

17 February 2005
Nixon at the Movies: A Book about Belief 
by Mark Feeney.
Chicago, 422 pp., £19.50, November 2004, 0 226 23968 3
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... Coover, Don DeLillo, Philip K. Dick, Joseph Heller, Thomas Pynchon, Ishmael Reed, Philip Roth and Garry Wills – whose analyses of Nixon, Reagan and Wayne blazed the trail for Nixon at the Movies – took him on as a character. Pundits have searched for literary antecedents (Uriah Heep, Tartuffe, Richard III), but Nixon is Nixon: socially awkward yet ...

In a Garden in Milan

Adam Phillips: Augustine’s Confessions

25 October 2018
Confessions: A New Translation 
by Augustine, translated by Peter Constantine.
Liveright, 329 pp., £22.99, February 2018, 978 0 87140 714 6
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... of divine mysteries’ in the introduction to his translation of Confessions (1991) while Garry Wills, who produced his own translation in 2008, encourages us to believe that, for Augustine, ‘God is the Word. We are made in his image. We are words.’ Such contradictions seem integral to Augustine’s project, and he wants the confusions to ...

Chapmaniac

Colin Burrow: Chapman’s Homer

27 June 2002
Chapman’s Homer: The ‘Iliad’ 
edited by Allardyce Nicoll.
Princeton, 613 pp., £13.95, December 1998, 0 691 00236 3
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Chapman’s Homer: The ‘Odyssey’ 
edited by Allardyce Nicoll.
Princeton, 613 pp., £13.95, January 2001, 0 691 04891 6
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... of Chapman’s Homer a work to be admired, bought, even read right through. The new prefaces by Garry Wills add little to Nicoll’s original, level-headed and accurate introductions, and do not always acknowledge, as they should, that there are still things which ought to be done with Chapman that Nicoll did not do. There is no help here in ...

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