Well said, Mr. Gopnik

There’s a readerly equivalent to hearing that absolutely godlike bit of a pop song: the well-turned phrase that says something with greater precision than you yourself could manage, but manages to do so in a way that doesn’t leave you feeling stupid and inarticulate.
For me, Adam Gopnik is one of the writers who does this with ease and considerable frequency. I’m kind of amazed that I made it all the way through my mini-book-pointer thingie about soccer without mentioning Adam’s positively amazing piece on the World Cup, which appeared originally in the New Yorker and is reprinted in his wonderful antidote to bonehead Francotrashing “Paris to the Moon”. You’ll find an excerpt from the book here.

<SFX: rummaging noises>….

Holy mackerel! There’s a copy of the chapter here. Scanned, I’m guessing.

Oh, sorry. Anyway, he’s on my New Yorker short list with Hendrik Hertzberg–persons whose writing I find myself reading aloud to myself from time to time, marvelling at their ability to give what I’d like to think is my better self a voice. Last week’s New Yorker had an interesting Gopnik piece about recent historical writing on the First World War, which included this:

“All these historians find themselves contending with the issues of historical judgement: how much can you blame the people of the past for getting something wrong when they could not have known it was going to go so wrong? The ques- tion is what they knew; when they knew it, if there was any way for them to know more, given what anyone knew at the time, and how in God’s name we could ever know enough about our own time not to do the same thing all over again. Or, to put it another way, are there lessons in history, or just stories, mostly sad?”

I couldn’t imagine having said this better, either when discussing history with a capital H, or describing my own errant path on the rocky hillside when viewed from a Great Height.

Well said, Mr. Gopnik

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