John Updike remembers his father

Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal published a column by Amity Shlaes summarizing her findings in The Forgotten Man, her revisionist history of the New Deal. AEI has made the column available under the heading “The real deal.” I’ve argued here that The Forgotten Man is an important book challenging the received understanding of the 1930’s. Charles Kesler observed in his review of Steven Hayward’s Age of Reagan:

For all its defense of traditional history, the Right cannot boast of many narrative historians, which is one reason that liberal chroniclers dominate the bookstore shelves.

Building on the work of predecessors such as Jim Powell in FDR’s Folly, Shlaes brings a storyteller’s gift to her challenge of the received version of the Great Depression. I was accordingly interested in John Updike’s New Yorker review of the book. Updike is a superb writer — I paid tribute to him here in “Considering John Updike” — and (on the evidence, among other things, of “On Not Being a Dove” in Self-Consciousness) a respectable sixties liberal.
The New Yorker is another story. It was a protagonist in the move from respectable sixties liberalism to the unrespsectable contemporary variety. There was no chance that Updike’s review would endorse Shlaes’s rejection of the New Deal. Updike’s review nevertheless fairly summarizes important elements of the book. He even expresses a writerly appreciation for Shlaes’s psychological insight and narrative skill. Only Updike would observe:

As she concludes the chapter


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