Biographies

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Plunkitt of Tammany Hall: A Series of Very Plain Talks on Very Practical Politics

by William L. Riordon (1905; St. Martin’s). At the last turn of the century, Riordon, a New York journalist, sat down with George Washington Plunkitt, a Tammany Hall district leader in Hell’s Kitchen, and got him to talk about his daily life. Several of Plunkitt’s aphorisms—“Reformers [is] mornin’ glories,” “I seen my opportunities and I took ’em”—have entered the common stock of political lore. His worldview—patriotism as boodle, and boodle as social work—is a sober corrective to all high-flown aspirations, left or right.

The Crack-Up, by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1945; New Directions) and A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway (1964; Simon & Schuster).

Just as there are Platonists and Aristotelians, and Yankee fans and Mets fans, so there are admirers of Fitzgerald and admirers of Hemingway. Why choose? The Crack-Up, edited by Edmund Wilson after Fitzgerald’s death in 1940, consists of an “autobiographical sequence” of essays, together with letters and selections from Fitzgerald’s notebooks; A Moveable Feast, Hemingway’s memoirs of the twenties in Paris, appeared after his suicide in 1961. Together the two books describe the writer’s life as experienced by the Lost Generation (Hemingway gives the genesis of the phrase, an exchange between a French mechanic and a garage owner, overheard by Gertrude Stein). Indelible anecdotes, sharp writing, and negative lessons in temperance (Fitzgerald) and charity (Hemingway).

The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test

by Tom Wolfe (1968; Bantam). The gaudiest of the New Journalists takes on Ken Kesey, the sixties transcendentalist who was, in his own way, as much an archetype of the West as John Wesley Powell. Kesey, the best-selling author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Sometimes a Great Notion, tried to reach a higher level of consciousness by ingesting crates of LSD and messing with other people’s heads. He failed, naturally, but Wolfe, the observant Southerner from New York, admired his doomed sincerity.