Richard D. Heffner, Author, Marc Jaffe, Editor, Mario M. Cuomo, Foreword by , edited by Marc Jaffe, preface by Mario M. Cuomo. Carroll & Graf $28 (464p) ISBN 978-0-7867-1087-4

Mined from 47 years of Heffner's television show, The Open Mind, this collection of "conversations" shifts from thinker to thinker within large topical umbrellas ("Power & Politics"; "The Law"; "The Media"; etc.) through artful editing. A conversation with William F. Buckley Jr., in which he argues in favor of drug legalization, follows a conversation with Mario Cuomo, in which he calls for a reassessment of American values. An exchange with Gloria Steinem on Marilyn Monroe precedes a discourse with Naomi Wolf on the "beauty myth." The elegance of these arrangements is delightfully perplexing, for a reader can only wonder what material Heffner and Jaffe have excluded. But while this collection is definitely a mighty addition to the historical record, to call it a "history of modern America" is a gross inflation. One can read this simply (and fairly) as a diverse reflection of American thought over the last half-century, But a dearth of conversations with artists (novelists, musicians, poets, painters, architects, actors) is disturbing for a book that by its title claims to encompass so much of modern America. (In fairness, Heffner, who worked as chairman of the board of the motion picture industry's rating system, has avoided potential conflicts of interest throughout his interviewing career, which offers a partial explanation for these absences.) On a more practical note, placing transcript dates at the end of each interview rather than at the beginning means the reader has to wait to discover that much of the commentary is more often prophetic than it is dated. (Oct.)

Reviewed on: 08/18/2003
Release date: 08/01/2003
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