Cultural Amnesia Review

In some sense, I’m glad Clive James wrote Cultural Amnesia in the early 2000’s. At that time, he was able to end it on an optimistic note. Despite living in a post 9/11 world, he was able to conclude the book with the feeling that if the end of history wasn’t already beginning, that it was imminent. 

It’s not.

In 2021 Cultural Amnesia feels more like a coda to the greatest hits of Western Civilization as we enter the neo-1984 era where nothing beautiful is safe from the sanctimonious purges of postmodern puritans hellbent on bleaching our meta-narratives. Where that leads us remains to be seen. I’m not optimistic.

Present context aside, this is a beautifully written book. It’s an indulgent tour of the stars of modern history who come together to form a constellation in which the imaginative reader can begin to see the shape of human achievement, both for good and for ill.

I listened to the audio version which is narrated very nicely by the author. It is, unbeknownst to me when I started it, heavily abridged. Fortunately, each chapter in the book is a self-contained vignette of a person that James found interesting and the book doesn’t need to be read in any order. I’m looking forward to finishing the chapters missing from the audiobook as I thumb through the paper version throughout the rest of of the year.

Leave a Reply