THE FLY SWATTER: How My Grandfather Made His Way in the World

Nicholas Dawidoff, Author . Pantheon $26 (368p) ISBN 978-0-375-40027-8

Due to a production error, the following review was omitted from a previous issue:

THE FLY SWATTER: How My Grandfather Made His Way in the WorldNicholas Dawidoff. Pantheon, $26 (368p) ISBN 0-375-40027-3

"The last man with all known knowledge" is how one former colleague, New Republic editor Martin Peretz, remembers Harvard economist Alexander Gerschenkron (1904–1978) in this lively tribute to Gerschenkron and to a vanished era of scholarly standards that he embodied. Dawidoff (In the Country of Country) was deeply influenced as a child by his grandfather's affectionate, sometimes madcap tutelage ("Once he handed me a copy of Trevelyan's History of England, pulled out a stopwatch, and clocked me to see how many pages a minute I could manage. It is no small trick to acquaint yourself with Ethelred the Unready while... [a] man with a strong Russian accent is shouting out time splits"); he has carefully pieced together Gerschenkron's life through interviews with surviving family members, colleagues and former students. Gerschenkron was one of the most memorable figures on campus during his tenure in the 1950s, '60s and '70s, respected for his breadth of knowledge (an economic historian by training, he was also offered chairs in Italian literature and Slavic studies) and for being a great conversationalist and all-around "character" who battled mercilessly with Nabokov, John Kenneth Galbraith and every guest lecturer with Marxist leanings. Born in Odessa, Gerschenkron fled the Bolsheviks in 1920 and resettled in Vienna, only to flee the Nazis in 1938. It was the trauma of these upheavals, Dawidoff speculates, that made Gerschenkron refuse to talk about his past, even while his European experiences were clearly the driving force behind his scholarly interests and later his bitter opposition to the student protest movements. Indeed, given that those supposedly close to Gerschenkron—Isaiah Berlin, physicist Philipp Frank, even Gerschenkron's sister—insist that they hardly knew him, it's to Dawidoff's credit that this finely wrought book is not just a collection of amusing Gerschenkron sketches, but movingly conveys something of the man's inner life. (May)

Corrections: The publisher of Flannery O'Connor: A Life, by Jean W. Cash (Forecasts, June 3), is the University of Tennessee Press.

In our "Forecast" of Mitchell Zuckoff's Choosing Naia: A Family's Journey (Forecasts, June 3), we stated that the book is "a powerful argument against abortion"—a statement, we realize, that may be open to misinterpretation. We did not mean to imply that Zuckoff is arguing against abortion, or that his book is anti-abortion. However, by devoting the large part of its text to a couple who elected not to abort their child, identified in the womb as a Down's child, and who never regretted that decision, the book will, we believe, be interpreted by many as a powerful argument against abortion.

Reviewed on: 06/24/2002
Release date: 05/01/2002
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 368 pages - 978-0-375-70006-4
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