I just finished my fourth book by Jospeh Epstein, Essays in Biography. For some strange reason, I like reading long books (this one was 564 pages). The other books by Joe which I have read are: Snobbery: The American Version, Friendship: An Expose and Narcissus Leaves the Pool: Familiar Essays. I love Joseph Epstein’s writing. The first of the books above that I read by him was the one on snobbery. It is one of my favorite books, and I recommend it to people all the time. I have enjoyed these other books by him, but I have not found any of them to be as profound and funny as my favorite. I currently have one more of Epstein’s books in my bookshelf: Literary Genius: 25 Classic Writers Who Define English and American Literature.
I like reading biographies about inspirational people, but many of the mini biographies in this book were not about admirable characters so they were not as fun for me to read. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn is an exception – he is an admirable character, and I enjoyed reading about his life. When I was traveling on a semester in Europe program in college, I read his book, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich.
Aleksandr was an underground writer in the Soviet Union for more than twenty years. He was a novelist, historian and short story writer. He was an outspoken critic of the Soviet Union and communism. He helped to raise global awareness of the Soviet Gulag forced labor camp system. As such, much of his reading is sad and difficult to read. His works helped to debunk what remained of Western illusions about the great Communist experiment. He was a prophet, a man on a mission who told people what he thought. It would not be too much to say of him that he helped to destroy communism. He was not blind, however, to the spiritual emptiness of the West and he said, “Excessive ease and prosperity have weakened their will and their reason.”
Epstein did not discuss Aleksandr’s faith much, but I am very interested in that and the role his faith played in his life. If you would like to learn more about his faith, here is a link to a good article about that: http://www.cslewisinstitute.org/webfm_send/558.
By the way, the quote of the day which I sent out to my family today is from Bob Cousy (point guard for the Boston Celtics from 1950 – 1963):
“Do your best when no one is looking. If you can do that, then you can be successful in anything that you put your mind to.”