cover image This Living Hand and Other Essays

This Living Hand and Other Essays

Edmund Morris. Random, $32 (512p) ISBN 978-0-8129-9312-7

This wide-ranging and mostly excellent collection from Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer and essayist Morris draws from four decades of writing. His topics range from the Romantic imagination to an unusual and extraordinary fruit know as a bumstitch. He has a strong historical bent, and many of the essays are quite nostalgic in tone. Morris' preface helps defuse some of the more dated moments, such as an uncomfortable elision of his Kenyan upbringing's colonial context and a reference to "feminine humor," by noting that he has largely refrained from making revisions, thereby allowing us to see him as he is or "was." Morris's prose is precise and engaging; his wit and thoughtfulness make for lively and often moving reading. As many will remember from his Reagan biography, Dutch, he tends to play fast and loose with the nonfiction form, here imagining conversations with deceased presidents and inserting himself into events he couldn't have attended or that could never have occurred at all. This brand of playfulness does not diminish the collection's seriousness of purpose. The essays are a pleasure, with the mixture of humor and intellect you'd hope for in an especially well-read dinner companion. (Oct.)