Breaking the Crockery,

Andrew Bacevich, president of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft

The Free World: Art and Thought in the Cold War
by Louis Menand.
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2021.

Let us dispose of the superlatives first: In terms of both style and substance, The Free World represents an achievement of the very highest order. A professor of English at Harvard who moonlights as a staff writer with the New Yorker, Louis Menand offers readers the best of both worlds. He writes with erudition and eloquence, insight and irony, punctuating the result with sharp observations and flashes of wit. “Many teenage boys wanted to be Elvis Presley,” Menand observes; “millions of teenage girls wanted to touch him. The latter helps to explain the former.” Indeed it did.

Were our own world genuinely free and also just, Menand’s book would win a bushel full of prizes. I hope it does. Given the world as it actually exists, however, it is likely to attract no more than a limited readership. Weighty in every sense of the word, The Free World is almost defiantly at odds with the fashions and predilections of the so-called Digital Age. Those accustomed to informing themselves by nervously poking through clickbait are unlikely to have the patience to read and absorb 700-plus pages of text supplemented by hundreds of detailed and instructive footnotes. But the loss will be theirs. Läs presentationen