Peter Wood is the Boston University anthropologist and author of the invaluable Diversity: The Invention of a Concept. His new book is A Bee in the Mouth: Anger in America Now and is reviewed by Stanley Kurtz here. Which reminds me that I have been looking for an excuse to link to this interesting reconsideration of Gerald Green’s The Last Angry Man by Ben Birnbaum.
Was anger ever seriously touted in America as a sign of virtue before Green’s book? Stephen Miller examined the newfound respectability of anger in a 2004 Wall Street Journal column and looked to Norman Mailer’s “The White Negro” as the source. Green’s popular novel was published in 1956, the same year as Mailer’s essay was originally published in Dissent (it wasn’t collected in a book until Mailer’s Advertisements for Myself in 1959). Of the two documents, Mailer’s essay is certainly the one with the intellectual pretensions and perhaps the intellectual influence as well, though Green’s novel may have been at least as important as a cultural influence. One can clearly trace the line that runs from Sam Abelman (“The Last Angry Man”) to Howard Beale and Keith Olbermann.
In his NRO column “Secrets of the crypt,” Wood meditates on the revelation that President Ford granted 25 years of interviews on condition that they not be disclosed until after his death. The interviews offer Ford’s assessments of Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, George H. W. Bush, and Clinton; Ford declined to comment on George W. Bush. Wood’s column wanders a bit in search of a thesis that can be fitted to Wood’s new book. I think the following observations are noteworthy for their intrinsic interest and occasional humor:
To think that President Ford devoted regular time over the last 25 years of his life to secretly bad-mouthing fellow presidents with the expectation of having his opinions un-shrouded as he was lowered away is a bit chilling.