cover image The American Century: Varieties of Culture in Modern Times

The American Century: Varieties of Culture in Modern Times

Norman F. Cantor. HarperCollins Publishers, $32.5 (480pp) ISBN 978-0-06-017451-4

An intellectual road map of the 20th century, New York University history professor Cantor's highly opinionated survey is peppered with startling insights and bold judgments. For example, he calls the modernist novel ""an examination of the disappointments of modern life,"" argues that Martin Heidegger's accommodation with the Nazis ""was fully in accordance with his philosophy"" and observes that Einstein, who projected the image of a gentle, introverted guru, ""was a hellraiser, a subscriber to almost every radical cause imaginable, a leftist."" Offering incisive criticism of left-wing thought and politics from Marx to Sartre to Edward Said, he is equally faultfinding of the American political right wing, which in his estimation increasingly looks backward to the pre-1900 era and has generated no significant body of thought or art. His lively, engrossing narrative history of the modernist movement is especially valuable for its capsule analyses of scores of figures, such as Beckett, Diaghilev, Kandinsky, Orwell, Keynes, Camus, Wittgenstein, Jung, Foucault and Derrida. An appendix gives snappy assessments of 100 modern films, from The Blue Angel to Oliver Stone's JFK and Nixon. Cantor's situating of modernism in its political and socioeconomic context is a tour de force of critical synthesis. This is a revised, expanded version of Twentieth Century Culture, which was published in 1988. Photos. (Apr.)