Wednesday, June 22, 2011


Author Evan Hunter, March 2001, at a book sign...

Image via Wikipedia

A press release from Amazon came in today announcing that the company had acquired 47 books written by mega Best Selling Author Ed McBain, best known for his 87th Precinct series. His real name was Evan Hunter, and he was a successful author under that name too. He died in 2005. This picture of him was taken in 2001. He looks agreeably lived-in, and his books reflect that fact.

I was delighted to be reminded of the man. I hate forgetting an author whose work I admire, but though I’m fairly certain I have read the vast majority of his books, somehow his name slipped my mind. Shame on me!

A recent report excoriated the ignorance of American school children – and much of the population - when it comes to history. I find that extremely worrying because I don’t see how you can make a rational decision in a democracy if you don’t have context; and history is context. I love it because not only is is innately interesting (it’s stories after all) but it also helps explain why people are the way they are, and why they do what they do. If you want to know why the Greek economy is in such terrible trouble right now, just look at their history, and all becomes clear. And the same applies to this Great Country.

There is a clear line linking our current economic woes to our behavior in the past. Beneath the bombast and the propaganda, American economic history is not the story of near consistent economic progress we are led to believe in. True, there have been magnificent achievements, but our corporate state has also done some terrible things – and is still doing them. And whether we are progressing, or not, is a decidedly debatable point.

When I say the corporate state, I don’t mean the U.S. Government. I mean the coalition of corporate interests which currently dominates our daily lives both directly, and through its influence on the U.S. Government. The image of puppetry comes to mind; or do I mean substance? We are certainly close to that point.

The American Business Model isn’t the role model it has long been touted to be (though it could be) – which may help to explain why few other countries are following it. It’s a tragedy that we don’t know our own history, and an attendant catastrophe that we are so ignorant of the histories of other countries. Instead, we have seemed to settle for ideology – a remarkably poor basis for informed decision making – combined with argument by assertion. The convenient thing about the latter is that veracity is not required.

Studying history tends to change one’s notions of time, particularly in a culture which seems to suffer from collective amnesia unless the issue concerns a sports statistic. Personally, I don’t consider the Vietnam War to have taken place a long time ago, whereas of my friends, who are preoccupied primarily with the events of the day, and the immediate future, regard such an attitude as eccentric, at best, and probably nuts. As to when it comes to discussing past relationships, indiscretions and adventures, the ability of women to forget – or to appear to forget – is truly impressive. All the world is indeed a stage, and the fair sex are accomplished actors.

We writers tend not to forget such things because history is our raw material, and our own histories – however they reflect our philandering, imperfections and mistakes – are our point of departure. Even fiction emanates from somewhere.

Bear that in mind when you next have an author over for dinner.












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