Thursday, May 24, 2012

Paul Fussell (1924 - 2012)

I just saw that Paul Fussell died yesterday. It's probably inarguable that his masterpiece is The Great War and Modern Memory, one of the great books about World War One and a superb melding of literary criticism and history. A book to read if you have any interest in WW1 at all -- or even if you don't, perhaps.

But I've read a number of his other books too -- Class, The Boy Scout Handbook and Other Observations, Thank God for the Atom Bomb and Other Essays, and Poetic Meter and Poetic Form. (I feel like I at least read a bit in Abroad and BAD and maybe even one other, but those are the books of his I really remember.) Class is just descriptive, and is out of date, and would doubtless not impress me now as it did when I first read it as a teenager, when its accuracy and insight into my own life and social circle rather stunned me. The two essay collections are uneven, but have a lot of great material in them. Even his defense of the bombing of Hiroshima is extremely well done, given that it is (I think) arguing on the wrong side. (Rather to his credit Fussell reprints a reply from Michael Walzer in his collection, which does a good job making the basic case on the other side.) And his book on, well, poetic meter and poetic form is really good introduction to its subject.

A good writer over a wide range of material, who happened to write one truly brilliant book in addition to a number of simply good ones. We all should be so lucky.

Rest in peace.

1 comment:

Michael A. Burstein said...

A friend of mine who lived Class as his bible was very upset with Fussell for having been glad that the US dropped the bombs on Japan, ending the war, because he saw Fussell's relief at not being sent into Japan to fight as selfish. (Of course, this was in the 1980s, and it was hard for my friend to appreciate Fussell's perspective.) My feeling is that whether or not you agree with how the US ended the war, it shouldn't be that hard to realize that a scared soldier should be relieved that the war ended without him being put in any more danger.