Reporting the Universe

Overview

"The writer," according to Emerson, "believes all that can be thought can be written...In his eyes a man is the faculty of reporting, and the universe is the possibility of being reported." And what writer worth his name, E. L. Doctorow asks, will not seriously, however furtively, take on the universe? Human consciousness, personal history, American literature, religion, and politics—these are the far-flung coordinates of the universe that Doctorow reports here, a universe that uniquely and brilliantly reflects ...
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Overview

"The writer," according to Emerson, "believes all that can be thought can be written...In his eyes a man is the faculty of reporting, and the universe is the possibility of being reported." And what writer worth his name, E. L. Doctorow asks, will not seriously, however furtively, take on the universe? Human consciousness, personal history, American literature, religion, and politics—these are the far-flung coordinates of the universe that Doctorow reports here, a universe that uniquely and brilliantly reflects our contemporary scene.

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.

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times
In the 14 essays -- originally delivered as the William E. Massey Sr. lectures in the history of American civilization at Harvard -- the novelist E. L. Doctorow recalls his boyhood during the Depression in his culturally rich Brooklyn home and reflects on his intellectual development at Kenyon College under the tutelage of the poet John Crowe Ransom. — Andy Brumer
Publishers Weekly
Whether he's contemplating the irony of our "God-soaked country" being officially secular, or his father's love of Edgar Allan Poe, "our greatest bad writer" (for whom he was named Edgar), or deriding the "mendacity" of politicians, Doctorow is here, as in his fiction, a wordsmith of the first order. It's a pleasure to read these essays-some autobiographical, some literary, some dealing with issues of the day-full of memorable phrases and evocative images, as well as incisive ideas. While recovering from a burst appendix as a boy during the Depression, he discovered Jack London, whose tales made him long to leave his difficult life in the Bronx "to be in the wild, loping at the head of my pack, ready to leap up and plunge my incisors into the throats of all who would harm me or my family." For readers who aren't familiar with Doctorow's work, this is a delightful and bracing introduction. (May) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
In this latest volume of the "William E. Massey Sr. Lectures in the History of American Civilization," whose previous contributors include Eudora Welty, Irving Howe, Toni Morrison, Gore Vidal, and Richard Rorty, Doctorow (The Book of Daniel) contributes a series of meditations that range from the role of the writer in modern society to the struggle for meaning between the traditions of Western secularism (free speech and logic) and of fundamentalist politico-religious movements. Here again, as in his Lamentation 9/11, Doctorow turns his attention to the tragedy of September 11, 2001. He explores the central paradoxes found between politics/ religion and philosophy/literature, interweaving biographical reminiscences of both religious and creative influences with observations about the current condition of the writer and world events. Because Reporting the Universe was originally a series of lectures, the tone and subject matter vary quite a bit from chapter to chapter. The most accessible and free-flowing passages are those dealing with Doctorow's family and his memories of them. Suitable for academic libraries with deep political and literature collections.-Felicity D. Walsh, Saint Anselm Coll., Manchester, NH Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Booklist

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

Financial Times (UK)

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

Newsday

Elegantly written and bracingly thoughtful.
— Peter Terzian

New York Review of Books

There hasn't been such a generous batch of essays in the decade since his own Jack London, Hemingway, and the Constitution.
— John Leonard

Chicago Tribune

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

Booklist - Donna Seaman
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.
Financial Times (UK) - A. C. Grayling
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.
Newsday - Peter Terzian
Elegantly written and bracingly thoughtful.
New York Review of Books - John Leonard
There hasn't been such a generous batch of essays in the decade since his own Jack London, Hemingway, and the Constitution.
Chicago Tribune - Art Winslow
Doctorow's nonfiction has a distinctly Emersonian approach, attempting to delve beneath the visible to find a soulful center, albeit primarily a secular one.
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Product Details

Meet the Author

E. L. Doctorow
E. L. Doctorow's City of God is the most recent of his many widely acclaimed novels. He holds the Glucksman Chair in American and English Letters at New York University.

Biography

E. L. Doctorow, one of America's preeminent authors, has received the National Book Critics Circle Award (twice), the National Book Award, the PEN/Faulkner Award, the Edith Wharton Citation For Fiction, and the William Dean Howells medal of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He has also published a volume of selected essays Jack London, Hemingway, and the Constitution, and a play, Drinks Before Dinner, which was produced by the New York Shakespeare Festival. He resides in New Rochelle, New York.

Author biography courtesy of Penguin Group (USA).

Good To Know

Doctorow began his career as a reader for Columbia Pictures. He went on to work as an editor for New American Library in the early 1960s, and then served as chief editor at Dial Press from 1964 to 1969.

Critics assailed Doctorow for delivering a commencement address critical of President George W. Bush at Hofstra University in May 2004.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Edgar Lawrence Doctorow (full name; named for Edgar Allan Poe)
      Edgar Laurence Doctorow
    2. Hometown:
      Sag Harbor, New York, and New York, New York
    1. Date of Birth:
      January 6, 1931
    2. Place of Birth:
      New York, New York
    1. Education:
      A.B., Kenyon College, 1952; postgraduate study, Columbia University, 1952-53
    2. Website:

Table of Contents

Emerson 1
Childhood of a Writer 9
Kenyon 39
Texts That Are Sacred, Texts That Are Not 51
First Novel 57
Deism 63
The Little Bang 75
Why We Are Infidels 83
The Politics of God 89
The Civil Religion 99
Canto XXV 103
Apprehending Reality 107
Paradise Lost 111
Literature as Religion 119
Acknowledgments 125
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