Richard Kluger: Reviewer can't stand his prose

Historians in the News

I cannot recommend this book, however [compelling the subject: American expansionism]. Kluger’s writing is some of the worst I have ever had to read. Let facts be submitted to a candid world. Kluger on the French Revolution: “French grievances were vented in alternating waves of liberation and repression that swept the overwrought masses toward the cauldron of anarchy.” Kluger on James K. Polk: “Perhaps, if one favors a Freudian frame of reference, Polk’s almost reckless aggressiveness in office ... was symptomatic of a form of sublimated libido, stemming from the cruel effects of a chronic bladder ailment that surgeons tried to ease by removing urinary stones but in the process damaged his genital equipment and likely left him sterile and possibly impotent from late adolescence on” (and I shortened this). Then there’s Kluger and the Homeric epithet, as in “Dixie-dominator Ulysses S. Grant” (Grant as a stock car, or a hooker). If I had not agreed to review this book, I would have stopped after five pages. After 600, I felt as if I were inside a bass drum banged on by a clown.

There is a connection, I think, between Kluger’s prose and his point of view. The bards of American growth, including even otherwise great writers such as Walt Whitman, wrote rather like Kluger. Expansion made its votaries expansive, in a bad way. Kluger has the same subject, though he thinks the process was much darker, accomplished by “daring, cunning, bullying, bluff and bluster, treachery, robbery, quick talk, double-talk, noble principles, stubborn resolve, low-down expediency, cash on the barrelhead and, when deemed necessary, spilled blood.” But he can’t change the rhetoric. He is a booster standing on his head.
Read entire article at Richard Brookhiser in the NYT Book Review of Richard Kluger's Seizing Destiny: How America Grew from Sea to Shining Sea

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