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Joseph Epstein was for almost a quarter of a century the editor of The American Scholar (the journal of the Phi Beta Kappa Society), until being adjudged too conservative in 1998. This book marks his sixth collection of essays--a form of which many consider him to be the modern American master--drawn from his writings at The American Scholar, under the pseudonym Aristides; The New Yorker; and The Hudson Review. The title reflects his own recognition that he is very much at the center of his own essays, that taken together they form a kind of autobiography, and, on a more somber note, that he's achieved an age where "the time has come for an end to preening, to thinking oneself still youthful, to regarding the future as endlessly expandable." Mr. Epstein has apparently always been fairly curmudgeonly, so it's hard to know how much this recognition of his own aging has affected his work and he's certainly still the central presence in most of the essays, so this may all be more a matter of self-consciousness than of life change. Whatever the case, he's still very much at the top of his game.

If you've never read Mr. Epstein before, by all means check out one or several or all of the essays we link to below--and be warned, that is the progression you're likely to go through. The basic style he uses is to take a topic and then pick it apart from a personal perspective. But it is his particular genius that by essay's end you realize that he's plumbed your own concerns and then realize that these concerns that you and he share are, or should be, universal. Note I say "should be". They may, after all, not be universal. In fact, here's how Mr. Epstein describes himself:
My talent is to unfurl slightly oblique observations in sentences that, if properly spun, sometimes yield a small surprise. I operate at the level of the sentence. I live less in the world than in my head. I long for a wisdom I know I shall never attain. I am a writer lucky beyond all luck to have found not only his forms but his perfect audience. The number of this audience is small--ten or twenty thousand maybe--but select....
So perhaps when Mr. Epstein writes about how tedious major sports has become, it is not that what he says is true but that those of us who are his readers happen to agree. And when he says that only Michael Jordan, then of the Bulls, and baseball still hold his interest, it seems certain that this not a universal opinion. But it also seems like it should be.

However, on other, less parochial, topics one is confident that he is revealing truths. For instance, the essay "An Extremely Well Informed SOB", pivots on a chance encounter with a line from Raymond Chandler:
Drinking coffee, I read a letter that Chandler wrote in 1950 to a friend which said that he was about to cancel his subscription to the Saturday Review of Literature. He had decided that it wasn't good enough to warrant brining into a house already overloaded with magazines, despite the magazine's claim to improve readers' minds. 'But I must be one of the few living Americans who do not crave to have their minds improved,' Chandler wrote. 'I know too much already. I would be happier knowing less.'
This leads Mr. Epstein, eventually, to the following:
One could, I suppose, be informed, knowledgeable, and hip all at once--though clogging one's mind with much useless information would be a strain--but no one could be all three things and cultivated into the bargain. To be cultivated is, of the four possibilities, the most desirable. I have had a few friends who have achieved this elevated status. The cultivated not only know a great deal but, more important, they know what is significant--they know, not to put too fine a point on it, what is really worth knowing.

Part of being a cultivated person is knowing what to forget.
It may be that this is the point where we see most clearly what Mr. Epstein means when he says he's realized that the future is not endlessly expandable. When we are young we do indeed wish to know everything, and may even believe it possible, more fools we. How much better to finally realize that some things should be forgotten and not all need be known. As Mr. Epstein notes, "Gertrude Stein recorded the happy moment when she realized she couldn't read all the books in the world." Quite right, but be sure to read Mr. Epstein's--every cultivated person should.

Other recommended books by Joseph Epstein:
    -With My Trousers Rolled: Familiar Essays (1995)


(Reviewed:)

Grade: (A+)

  

Websites:

See also:

Joseph Epstein (2 books reviewed)
Essays
Joseph Epstein Links:

    -WIKIPEDIA: Joseph Epstein
    -SHORT STORY: The Love Song of A. Jerome Minkoff (Joseph Epstein, February 2009, Commentary)
    -ESSAY: What I Read (Joseph Epstein | August 25, 2010, The Atlantic)
    EXCERPT: Foreword to The Dimwit's Dictionary by Robert Hartwell Fiske (Joseph Epstein, Vocabula Review)
    -EXCERPT: THE PERSONAL ESSAY-A FORM OF DISCOVERY (JOSEPH EPSTEIN'S INTRODUCTION TO THE NORTON BOOK OF PERSONAL ESSAYS)
    -ESSAY: The Green-Eyed Monster: Envy is nothing to be jealous of. (Joseph Epstein, July/August 2003, Washington Monthly)
    -ESSAY: In a Snob-Free Zone: Is there a place where one is outside all snobbish concerns--neither wanting to get in anywhere, nor needing to keep anyone else out? (Joseph Epstein, June 2002, Washington Monthly)
    -ESSAY: Frisked in Munich (Joseph Epstein, 3/14/03, Weekly Standard)
    -ESSAY: Promises, Promises: Soaring expectations collide with harsh political realities. How Barack Obama looks from Chicagoland. (Joseph Epstein, 2/13/09, Newsweek)
    -REVIEW: Humor in Hopelessness: 'Zeno's Conscience' takes a wry look at life's paradoxes (JOSEPH EPSTEIN , WSJ)
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW: Fred Astaire with Joseph Epstein (WBUR: On Point, 4/16/09)
    -PROFILE: Snobs: They're Made, Not Born (EMILY EAKIN, June 8, 2002, NY Times)
    -INTERVIEW: Friendship with Joseph Epstein (Diane Rehm Show, July 11, 2006)
    -INTERVIEW: Joseph Epstein: Author of Fabulous Small Jews talks with Robert Birnbaum (Robert Birnbaum, 8/31/03, Identity Theory)
    -INTERVIEW: Fabulous Small Jews Indeed (Doug Wagner, January Magazine)
    -INTERVIEW: Not Your Regular Joe: A conversation with the essayist and editor Joseph Epstein (Katie Bolick, June 30, 1999, Atlantic Monthly)
    -ARCHIVES: Joseph Epstein (Vocabula Review)
    -ARCHIVES: Joseph Epstein (Hudson Institute)
    -ARCHIVES: Joseph Epstein (NY Times)
    -ARCHIVES: Joseph Epstein (Claremont Institute)
    -ARCHIVES: "joseph epstein" (Weekly Standard)
    -ARCHIVES: Joseph Epstein (Commentary)


   -ESSAY: The Green-Eyed Monster: Envy is nothing to be jealous of. (Joseph Epstein, July/Ausust 2003, Washington Monthly)
    -REVIEW: of Never Say Die: The Myth and Marketing of the New Old Age By Susan Jacoby (Joseph Epstein, WSJ)
    -REVIEW: of Cahiers/Notebooks, by Paul Valery (Joseph Epstein, New Criterion)
    -ESSAY: Birth of a snob (Joseph Epstein, June 2002, Commentary)
    -ESSAY: Early Riser: The joy of getting out of bed and down to work (Joseph Epstein, February 2002, Atlantic Monthly)
    -ESSAY: Vote for the Philistine: I'll take Bush over the pseudointellectual Gore. (Joseph Epstein, September 30, 2000, Wall Street Journal)
    -ESSAY : In a Snob-Free Zone : Is there a place where one is outside all snobbish concerns--neither wanting to get in anywhere, nor needing to keep anyone else out? (Joseph Epstein, June 2002 , Washington Monthly)
    -ESSAY: Think You Have a Book in You? Think Again (Joseph Epstein, September 28, 2002, NY Times)
    -ESSAY: Hollywood Courage (Joseph Epstein, Winter 2001, Women's Quarterly)
    -ESSAY: Among the Gentlemen-Publishers (Joseph Epstein, May 2001, Commentary)
    -ESSAY: The Game of the Name (Joseph Epstein, January 2001, Vocabula Review)
    -ESSAY: You Got Attitude? (Joseph Epstein, November 2000, Vocabula Review)
    -ESSAY: BATS, Balls, and IDOLS (Joseph Epstein, September 2000, American Enterprise)
    -ESSAY: Intellectuals--Public and Otherwise (Joseph Epstein, May 2000, Commentary)
    -ESSAY: Bloomin' Genius (Joseph Epstein, Hudson Review)
    -ESSAY: The old people's socialist League: the life of Irving Howe reconsidered (Joseph Epstein, August 1998, Commentary)
    -ESSAY: The secret life of Alfred Kinsey. (Joseph Epstein, January 1998, Commentary)
    -ESSAY: Sam Lipman at the NEA (Joseph Epstein, March 1995, New Criterion)
    -ESSAY: Wise, foolish, enchanting Lady Mary (Joseph Epstein, January 1995, New Criterion)
    -ESSAY: C. P. Cavafy, a poet in history (Joseph Epstein, January 1994, New Criterion)
    -ESSAY: Selling Henry James (Joseph Epstein, November 1990, New Criterion)
    -ESSAY: The big O: the reputation of George Orwell (Joseph Epstein , May 1990, New Criterion)
    -ESSAY: Decline & Blumenthal (Aristides, Winter 1994, American Scholar)
    -ESSAY: Such good taste (Aristides, Spring 1993, American Scholar)
    -ESSAY: Time on my hands, me in my arms. (Aristides, Autumn 1991, American Scholar)
    -ESSAY: Knocking on three, Winston. (Aristides, Summer 1991, American Scholar)
    -ESSAY: Entre nous (Aristides, Winter 1990, American Scholar)
    -ESSAY: Livestock (Aristides, Fall 1990, American Scholar)
    -SHORT STORY: Uncle Jack (Joseph Epstein, May 2002, Commentary)
    -SHORT STORY: My little Marjie (Joseph Epstein, November 01 2001, Commentary)
    -SHORT STORY: A Loss for Words (Joseph Epstein, October 2001, Commentary)
    -SHORT STORY: Howie's Gift: A Story (Joseph Epstein, June 2001, Commentary)
    -SHORT STORY: Postcards (Joseph Epstein, March 2001, Commentary)
    -SHORT STORY: The Master's Ring (Joseph Epstein, October 2000, Commentary)
    -SHORT STORY: Freddy Duchamp in Action (Joseph Epstein, October 1999, Commentary)
    -SHORT STORY: Dubinsky on the Loose (Joseph Epstein, December 1998, Commentary)
    -SHORT STORY: Saturday afternoon at the zoo with dad (Joseph Epstein, July 1998, Commentary)
    -SHORT STORY: Coming in With Their Hands Up (Joseph Epstein, March 2000, Commentary)
    Curious George: The psuedoprofundity of George Steiner: a review of Lessons of the Masters by George Steiner (Joseph Epstein, Weekly Standard)
    -REVIEW: of Diaspora: Homelands in Exile by FrŽdŽric Brenner (Joseph Epstein, Weekly Standard)
    -REVIEW: of DiMaggio: The Hero's Life by Richard Ben Cramer (Joseph Epstein, Commentary)
    -REVIEW: of The Corrections and Empire Falls (Joseph Epstein, Commentary)
    -REVIEW: of Sir Vidia's Shadow: A Friendship Across Five Continents by Paul Theroux (Joseph Epstein, Commentary)
    -REVIEW: of Playing for Keeps by David Halberstam (Joseph Epstein, Commentary)
    -REVIEW: of A Moral Temper: The Letters of Dwight Macdonald, edited by Michael Wreszin (Joseph Epstein, November 2001, New Criterion)
    -REVIEW: of Between Father and Son: Family Letters, by V. S. Naipaul (Joseph Epstein, March 2000, New Criterion)
    -REVIEW: of The New Oxford Book of English Prose, edited by John Gross (Joseph Epstein, April 1999, New Criterion)
    -REVIEW: of Lord Berners: The Last Eccentric, by Mark Amory (Joseph Epstein, November 1998, New Criterion)
    -REVIEW: of V. S. Pritchett: Complete Collected Stories (Joseph Epstein, March 1993, New Criterion)
    -REVIEW: of Maurice Baring: A Citizen of Europe, by Emma Letley (Joseph Epstein, October 1992, New Criterion)
    -REVIEW: of Hazlitt: A Life, by Stanley Jones (Joseph Epstein, November 1991, New Criterion)
    -REVIEW: of Willa: The Life of Willa Cather, by Phyllis C. Robinson (Joseph Epstein, December 1983, New Criterion)
    -REVIEW: of Making the Body Beautiful by Sander L. Gilman (Joseph Epstein, Commentary)
    -REVIEW: of A Company of Readers, Edited by Athur Krystal (Joseph Epstein, Commentary)
    -REVIEW: of The Love Song of A. Jerome Minkoff' (Ted Gioia, PopMatters)
    -REVIEW: of The Love Song of A. Jerome Minkoff' (Robert Birnbaum, The SF Chronicle)
    -REVIEW: of Love Song of A. Jerome Minkoff' (Martin Northway, New City Lit)
    -REVIEW: of Love Song of A. Jerome Minkoff' (Larry Thornberry , American Spectator)
    -REVIEW: of Love Song of A. Jerome Minkoff (Kirkus Reviews)
    -REVIEW: of Love Song (BILL RUEHLMANN, The Virginian-Pilot and The Ledger-Star)
    -REVIEW: of Love Song (Sam Allis, Boston Globe)
    -REVIEW: of
   
-REVIEW: of A Line Out for a Walk: Familiar Essays by Joseph Epstein (D. Keith Mano, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of With My Trousers Rolled: Familiar Essays by Joseph Epstein (Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of Life Sentences: Literary Essays by Joseph Epstein (Emily Barton, NY Times Book Revbiew)
    -REVIEW: of Alexis De Tocqueville: Democracy's Guide by Joseph Epstein (Christopher Caldwell, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Democracy’s Guide, by Joseph Epstein (Daniel J. Mahoney, Claremont Review of Books)
    -REVIEW: of Snobbery: The American Version, by Joseph Epstein (Glenn Ellmers, Claremont Review of Books)
    -REVIEW: of Snobbery (Alan Riding, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Snobbery (Martha Bayles, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Snobbery (Joan O'C. Hamilton, Business Week)
    -REVIEW: of Snobbery (Adam Begley , NY Observer)
    -REVIEW: of Snobbery (Carol Doup Muller, CS Monitor)
    -REVIEW: of Snobbery (Robert Finn, Bookreporter)
    -REVIEW: of Snobbery (Claire Zulkey, PopMatters)
    -REVIEW: of Snobbery (JoAnn Gutin, Salon)
    -REVIEW: of Snobbery (David Ehrenstein , LA Weekly)
    -REVIEW: of Snobbery (Eric J. Iannell, Ink 19)
    -REVIEW: of In a Cardboard Belt!: Essays Personal, Literary, and Savage, by Joseph Epstein ( Joseph Tartakovsky, Claremont Review of Books)
    -REVIEW: of Narcissus Leaves the Pool (Ronald McCloskey, Catholic Exchange)
    -REVIEW: of Friendship by Joseph Epstein (Stephen Metcalf, Slate)
    -REVIEW: of Friendship (William Grimes, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of FRED ASTAIRE By Joseph Epstein (David Thompson, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of The Middle of My Tether by Joseph Epstein (Anatole Broyard, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of Once More Around the Block: Familiar Essays by Joseph Epstein (Joel Conarroe, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Friendship (Mindy Aloff, NY Observer)

Book-related and General Links:


GENERAL:
    -The Personal Essay (Mr. Bauld's English)

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