Jingoism, Political Agendas and Dangerous Driving

Kipling and James

To the Editor:

A line in Stacy Schiff’s review of Christopher Benfey’s “If: The Untold Story of Kipling’s American Years” (Aug. 18) may give the wrong impression of William James’s attitude toward Rudyard Kipling’s chauvinism: “Kipling shaped the thought of William James, with whom he worked out the themes of ‘Captains Courageous.’”

In an 1899 letter, James made it clear that he did not approve of Kipling’s more blustery talk of the “white man’s burden” and so on: “I wish he would hearken a bit more to his deeper human self and a bit less to his shallower jingo self. If the Anglo-Saxon race would drop its sniveling cant it would have a good deal less of a ‘burden’ to carry.”

James Phil Oliver
Murfreesboro, Tenn.

On the Interstate

To the Editor:

In his review of “Escalante’s Dream: On the Trail of the Spanish Discovery of the Southwest” (Aug. 11), Philip Connors is surprised that the author, David Roberts, known for his mountaineering prowess, expresses disquiet about riding on Interstate 15 on a stormy day.

When you are mountaineering, you control as many variables as possible and move at your own speed. When you are on the highway, even on a clear, dry day, you are forced to trust in the driving skills and maintenance diligence of thousands of strangers hurtling past you at 75 miles per hour. I completely understand Roberts’s unease.

Frank Holt
Clinton, Mass.

Some Things Never Change

To the Editor:

Anne Barnard’s evocative review of Elliot Ackerman’s “Places and Names: On War, Revolution, and Returning” (Aug. 18) is further evidence of how today’s wars so differ from mine of 70 or more years ago: enormous firepower at all levels, mechanical and armored mobility, casualty evacuation, air support and communications that actually work.

Yet the photograph accompanying the review, of Ackerman and a colleague, shows that some things never change. The intense close combat expenditure of adrenaline, energy and command function is followed, when the situation permits, by utter exhaustion and bone weariness that after prolonged periods lead to near catatonia.

Alexander McKay
Calgary, Alberta

Critical Agenda

To the Editor:

I had just finished reading Robert Wilson’s “Barnum: An American Life” when I came upon Jessica Bruder’s review (Aug. 18). While I found some of her critique accurate and some inaccurate, I have to ask: Will there ever come a time when someone can review a book, especially a biography, without injecting a particular political agenda?

The gratuitous reference to Donald Trump (Bruder even says “while the book never mentions Donald Trump,” then proceeds to mention him) undermines my belief that she’s reviewing the work in front of her.

Alan Weiss
East Greenwich, R.I.

The Ethics of Dying

To the Editor:

In Paperback Row (Aug. 18), Maria Russo praises Sallie Tisdale’s “Advice for Future Corpses, and Those Who Love Them” for offering an “unorthodox guide to the mechanics and ethics of dying.” But an “overarching philosophy of how to live well by coming to terms with the reality of death” seems to me to be conventional rather than unorthodox.

Felicia Nimue Ackerman
Providence, R.I.


The Help Desk column last Sunday misstated the surname of one of the authors of “Wildhood: The Epic Journey From Adolescence to Adulthood in Humans and Other Animals.” She is Barbara Natterson-Horowitz, not Natterson-Horotize.

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