The Unknown Battle of Midway

by Eric Byrd This half-memoir, half-history is one of those bleak books that illustrate Sartre's remark that a victory described in detail is indistinguishable from a defeat. On June 4, 1942, US Navy dive-bombers sank four Japanese aircraft carriers – all of which had been present at the attack on Pearl Harbor seven months prior…

Grant, Fuller, and Fascism

by Eric Byrd John Keegan and Geoffrey Perret have repackaged the essential arguments of The Generalship of Ulysses S. Grant, first published in 1929, in more politically palatable prose. But I was interested by the book's datedness, the view it offers of the odd personality and ominous historical situation from which the reevaluation of Grant…

Three Wogs

by Eric Byrd Three Wogs (1973) is Alexander Theroux's first novel – the fruit of a Fulbright year in London, and a National Book Award nominee. It is the work of a verbal sorcerer and deep-seeing satirist unafraid of prolixity or obscurity in the pursuit of a complex effect: the grotesque real, the situations in…

On Guy Davenport

by Eric Byrd His poetry emerges out of dreams – of a very special kind that abide wholly within the realm of art. (Blok, on Mandelstam) Guy Davenport's essays are more read than his stories – and so would begin a critical lament, if Davenport's use of the modes were more distinct; if his stories…

Magic Prague

by Eric Byrd Angelo Maria Ripellino (1923 – 1978) was a poet, Slavicist, translator of the great Russian Symbolists and Silver Agers (Bely's Petersburg into Italian, a transmutation as arduous and heroic as any of Ulysses, from what I've heard Nabokov say), and, most memorably, a servant of Czech letters whose devotion extended, in one…

The Face of Battle

by Eric Byrd As a teenager who just wanted battles, I tried to read The Face of Battle and was baffled by the historiographic argument of Keegan's introduction, a long essay that, I now see, echoes Virginia Woolf's manifesto “Modern Fiction” and applies its prescriptions to historical prose. Keegan called to writers of military history…

Cheever’s Journals

by Eric Byrd Having nothing better to do…I read two old journals. High spirits and weather reports recede into the background, and what emerges are two astonishing contests, one with alcohol and one with my wife. (1968) That sounds like what I read. Until Cheever gets sober – 1975 – the entries of this 5%…

Ségur

by Eric Byrd Defeat: Napoleon's Russian Campaign is the graspable handle New York Review of Books Classics has given David Townsend’s translation-abridgement of General Philippe-Paul de Ségur’s Histoire de Napoléon et de la Grande-Armée pendant l’année 1812, published in 1824. In his original two volumes, Ségur interleaved tedious statistics and technical disquisitions in archaic military…

Orlando

by Eric Byrd Orlando's biography spans five centuries but I think Woolf endows but two, the sixteenth and the nineteenth, with a full measure of her erudite brio and critical fantasy. Nothing in the novel surpasses the Renaissance fantasia of the first chapter – sixty pages of enchanting, festive, parti-colored prose. Orlando opens his/her eyes…

Poets in a Landscape

by Eric Byrd Barbarian that I am, my knowledge of the classic Latin poetry, excepting Ovid’s exilic Epistulae, and what bits of the Metamorphoses an English major might meet in footnotes to the Fairie Queene and Paradise Lost, amounts to no more than names on a timeline. Poets in a Landscape is the remedial introduction…

On Guido Ceronetti

by Eric Byrd A few years ago I found a copy of the 1990 English translation of Guido Ceronetti's The Silence of the Body: Materials for the Study of Medicine in a used bookstore's Humor section. Those are usually dead zones of joke books, cartoon compilations and political jesters, over which the eye skims. I…

Housekeeping, Houseburning: Terrence Malick and Marilynne Robinson

by Eric Byrd A few years ago Slate's culture editor David Haglund posted a piece called “Marilynne Robinson, the Terrence Malick of the Literary World.” Malick and Robinson, he said, are kindred artists. They share a pattern of striking debuts, mid-career hiatus, and late fertility; also, an unfashionable theological seriousness, and a deep attention to…

Another Great War List

By Eric Byrd Journey to the Abyss: The Diaries of Count Harry Kessler, 1880-1918 The Belle Époque cosmopolitan, after bidding Rodin adieu at the Gare du Nord the day of the Austrian ultimatum, returned to Germany and donned the feldgrau tunic, to battle for the fortunes of the Reich. The 1914-18 entries of this famous…

On Alvin Kernan

by Eric Byrd There's a subgenre of military memoirs produced by elderly emeriti, the crew-cut close readers of postwar English departments, who in late career published personal recollections of they and the other terrified teenagers who mostly fought World War Two. Alvin Kernan (Shakespeare editor, torpedo bomber crewman) is like Paul Fussell (Johnsonian, infantry officer)…

Campaigning with Grant

by Eric Byrd On Facebook I follow a number of the US Department of the Interior's National Battlefield Parks, National Battle Sites, and Military Parks. In the progress of the Civil War's sesquicentennial each of these sites has had their day in the social media sun, their special anniversary posts with pictures of the commemorative…