Book review

Origins of Presentism, review by William Anthony Hay

Our Shadowed Present: Modernism, Postmodernism, and History, by J.C.D. Clark, Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2004. 336 pp.

HISTORY RETAINS A PROFOUND HOLD on the human imagination as individuals and societies alike define themselves by coming to terms with their past. Today, however, a general shift in assumptions about the role of the past in the developed world has changed the relationship of cultures with their history. Events are now located only in the present tense. Having lost touch with a history that provided meaning, Western societies now grapple confusedly with questions of identity.

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War of the Worldviews

Wall Street Opinion Journal BY JOHN J. MILLER Tuesday, June 21, 2005 12:01 a.m. EDT

H.G. Wells was a sci-fi pioneer, but his political ideas were abominable.

If H.G. Wells had not performed poorly on an astronomical physics test and several other exams as a young man, he might have spent the rest of his life as an obscure academic rather than a popular author. He probably would not have written his most famous book, “The War of the Worlds”–a novel that’s never gone out of print since its publication in 1898 and that now serves as the inspiration for the Stephen Spielberg film reaching theaters next Wednesday.

Those lousy marks at the Normal School of Science in London’s South Kensington are perhaps one of the best things that ever happened to the original Martian chronicler. Wells himself didn’t see them that way. He bore a deep grudge. In an 1895 story, “The Argonauts of the Air,” his protagonists slam a “flying machine” into the Royal College of Science (as the Normal School had been renamed), causing explosions and fatalities. It’s difficult to interpret the episode as something other than a morbid act of literary terrorism.

Even this didn’t flush the anger out of his system. Three years later, in “The War of the Worlds,” Wells unleashed those iconic tripods and their devastating heat rays on his old stomping ground. In a letter, he boasted of “selecting South Kensington for feats of peculiar atrocity.”

Perhaps the professors got the message and began to practice grade inflation. Whatever the case, the author’s lingering resentment highlights one of the central aspects of his work: He simply couldn’t accept the world he encountered in his everyday life. Disappointments often sparked a destructive urge. The man was nothing if not a radical who yearned to reshape the fundamentals of human society through books and politics.


Just finished Natan Sharanky’s “The Case of Democracy”

Natan Sharansky was a Soviet dissident who fought for the rights of Jews, particulary Jewish immigrant, against his Soviet oppressors. He was jailed for seven years but eventually prevailed. Currently he lives in Israel. Sharansky argues in “The Case for Democracy” that all oppressed people yearn for freedom. He makes a compelling historical and moral case that American foreign policy should link relations with tyrants to how they treat their own people — just as Reagan did with the Soviet Union. Such linkage, Sharansky argues, will allow potential dissidents who will work to lessen the oppression to emerge. This book makes a compelling moral case for reform through an activist foreign policy by America and other free nations by a man who possesses the moral authority to make it.