cover image The Nature of Generosity

The Nature of Generosity

William Kittredge. Alfred A. Knopf, $25 (288pp) ISBN 978-0-679-43752-9

In this memoir turned inside out, veteran writer Kittredge (who won the PEN West Literary Award for his earlier autobiography, Hole in the Sky) jigs in and out of his childhood on an isolated ranch in Oregon and the much older cities of Europe to make a plea for a what he terms ""extreme long loop altruism."" His geographical movement is quickly outpaced by his tour of literature (from Darwin to Walt Whitman to E.O. Wilson), as he races haphazardly through the development of an increasingly isolated and corrupted human society that disdains compassion, seeks to control the natural world and tries to buy happiness. He argues that we mustDand canDreinvest in the world by, for example, ""learning to think of progress as a movement toward sharing, rather than accumulating, and to consider our most central values in terms of our willingness to give."" But such ethics seem palpable only in the rare moments when Kittredge slows down enough to describe how they spring from the world around him. He acknowledges that ""[t]his book proceeds more like a dance than an argument,"" but the rush of his often gorgeous images and jumbled summaries yield only flirtatious glances at the power of his ideas. (Dec. 8)