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Rich with philosophical asides, historical speculations, personal observations, and literary judgments, Reporting the Universe ranges from the circumstances of Doctorow's own boyhood and early work to the state of modern society. An account of the "Childhood of a Writer," along with pieces on Kenyon College and the author's first novel, comprise a pocket-sized memoir. In reflections on Emerson, on "texts that are sacred, texts that are not," and on literature and religion Doctorow concerns himself with the status and fate of literature. And in "Why We Are Infidels" and "The Politics of God" he engages some of the most pressing anxieties and ideologies of our day.
This series of reflections comes together as an artfully sustained meditation on American consciousness and experience, discrete episodes converging, as in the author's fiction, to form a luminous whole—a "report" by turns touching and funny, ironic and exalted, and, in its unique way, universally to the point.
As Reporting the Universe (the phrase is Emerson's) unfolds with its piquant and enlightening blend of the personal, the aesthetic, and the political, Doctorow uses the axis between the secular and the religious to take measure of the transcendent powers of literature and key ethical issues in post-September 11 America. As he forthrightly contrasts the rigidity of fundamentalism with the fluidity of intellectual and artistic explorations, Doctorow, who always works on deep, even mythic levels, creating brilliant arguments out of breathtaking metaphors, perceives great danger in the current blurring of the line between church and state, and in the enormous influence of corporate interests on governmental policy. Ultimately, this potent collection of elegantly distilled essays offers a fresh perspective on our species' capacity for both the sublime and the horrific.
— Donna Seaman
Doctorow's essays...start as a personal memoir, and unfurl into a sharp look at the state of America, its soul and its literature, all perceptively portrayed via one another. On the way through this fascinating mélange, Doctorow illuminates the business of writing and reading, the two central occupations of his own life, through which his America appears framed.
— A. C. Grayling
Elegantly written and bracingly thoughtful.
— Peter Terzian
There hasn't been such a generous batch of essays in the decade since his own Jack London, Hemingway, and the Constitution.
— John Leonard
Doctorow's nonfiction has a distinctly Emersonian approach, attempting to delve beneath the visible to find a soulful center, albeit primarily a secular one.
— Art Winslow
|Childhood of a Writer||9|
|Texts That Are Sacred, Texts That Are Not||51|
|The Little Bang||75|
|Why We Are Infidels||83|
|The Politics of God||89|
|The Civil Religion||99|
|Literature as Religion||119|