I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed a book as much as I enjoyed John Fleming’s The Anti-Communist Manifestos: Four Books That Shaped the Cold War, published in 2009. The John V. Fleming site is devoted to the book. Professor Fleming compiles reviews and comments genially on them here.
Norman Podhoretz invoked the metaphor of The Bloody Crossroads to title his study of the intersection of literature and politics in some notable modern works. Fleming returns to “the bloody crossroads,” but narrows the scope to study the four most popular anti-Communist works published in the United States. Each of the four books covered by Fleming conveys the author’s (disillusioned) experience of Communism from the inside.
A propos of one of the four books, Fleming writes: “Normal history is suspect because it is written by the winners. The history of left-wing literature in America…is suspect because it was written by the losers, most of them sore losers at that.” Professor emeritus of literature at Princeton, Fleming means to rescue what is in his hands a remarkable piece of literary history through meticulous historical reconstruction. He performs the rescue with passion, style, and wit.
The fourth of the four books that Fleming covers is Whitaker Chambers’s Witness, a book that figures prominently in Andrew Ferguson’s brilliant article on David Mamet’s turn away from the left. Of Witness Professor Fleming writes that “by any just canon of literary history [it] should claim its place within the great tradition of American autobiography.”
At Princeton Professor Fleming taught Chaucer, among other things. Professor Fleming’s aptly named blog is Gladly Lerne, Gladly Teche, derived from Chaucer’s description of the Oxford philosophy student in the General Prologue to the Canterbury Tales. “Gladly lerne, gladly teche” is the spirit that suffuses Fleming’s — in my opinion, great — book.
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