A collection of well-written and elegant essays that I could not, despite every effort, interest myself in – mostly about religion and its place in contemporary culture. This did get me interested in Marilynne Robinson’s novels.


Say that we are a puff of warm breath in a very cold universe. By this kind of reckoning we are either immeasurably insignificant or we are incalculably precious and interesting. I tend toward the second view. Scarcity is said to create value, after all.p. 36

I was led to believe that I and my peers were a slovenly lot who could never aspire to the first rank at anything—democracy and prosperity, those two great proofs of our superiority, were somehow deeply stultifying in their effects, so we were told. For this reason America was forever outskated, forever beaten at chess. Her youth would never truly master the violin. The twelve-year-old gymnasts of the Communist bloc would forever tie themselves in tighter knots than our twelve-year-old gymnasts... I need not say how utterly Soviet youth outshone us at math and science, or how inevitably these attainments fed into the ever-increasing power and precision of their missiles, in tribute to which we sometimes crouched under our desks.

Human history is in large part nonsense, and I think it is appropriate to pay tribute to the percentage of the nonsense that is not tragic, that is harmless, even benign. Looking back at the challenges flung to us by the Soviets in our long struggle for hearts and minds, it is striking to realize how elegant, how courtly they tended to be. Their dancers and their skaters carried themselves like Romanovs, grave and unapproachable, aesthetically chaste and severe. It is striking as well how effectively their classicism governed the competition. Ballet was suddenly urgently important in America. Our orchestras were heroes of democracy for doing well just what they had always done.

pp. 42–43