When the multitalented biographer Edmund Morris (who writes with equal virtuosity about Theodore Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan, Beethoven, and Thomas Edison) was a schoolboy in colonial Kenya, one of his teachers told him, You have the most precious gift of all - originality.
That quality is abundantly evident in this selection of essays. They cover 40 years in the life of a maverick intellectual who can be, at whim, astonishingly provocative, self-mockingly funny, and richly anecdotal. (The title essay, a tribute to Reagan in cognitive decline, is poignant in the extreme.)
Whether Morris is analyzing images of Barack Obama or the prose style of President Clinton, or exploring the riches of the New York Public Library Dance Collection, or interviewing the novelist Nadine Gordimer, or proposing a hilarious Diet for the Musically Obese, a continuous cross-fertilization is going on in his mind. It mixes the cultural pollens of Africa, Britain, and the United States, and propogates hybrid flowers - some fragrant, some strange, some a shock to conventional sensibilities.
Repeatedly in This Living Hand, Morris celebrates the physicality of artistic labor, and laments the glass screen that today's e-devices interpose between inspiration and execution. No presidential biographer has ever had so literary a take on his subjects: He discerns powers of poetic perception even in the obsessively scientific Edison. Nor do most writers on music have the verbal facility to articulate, as Morris does, what it is about certain sounds that soothe the savage breast. His essay on the pathology of Beethoven's deafness breaks new ground in suggesting that tinnitus may explain some of the weird aural effects in that composer's works.
Masterly monographs on the art of biography, South Africa in the last days of apartheid, the romance of the piano, and the role of imagination in nonfiction are juxtaposed with enchanting, almost unclassifiable pi... Download and start listening now!