Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Critical reception

The problem with going to see a movie just because critics say it's superb is that sometimes critics, like everybody else, suffer mass hysteria. Ten years ago I went to see "American Beauty" because darn near everybody who reviews films said it was a classic.

What a piece of drivel, I thought when I departed from the theater. Are you all nuts, I thought when it won all those Oscars.

One also has to wonder when reading or hearing criticism whether the author has an agenda causing him to review the work favorably or unfavorably based on bias rather than the work's merits.

Which brings me to Lynne Cheney's upcoming biography of James Madison. If the book gets a thumbs up from the New York Times Book Review I'll assume it's probably good.

But what if the Times trashes it? If they do, there are two possibilities:

1. It deserves to be trashed, or
2. It doesn't deserve to be trashed, but the author's surname is Cheney so it's gonna get trashed.

I hope Mrs. Cheney and her editor are really going to dot their "i"s and cross their "t"s. I just finished reading Steven Waldmann's Founding Faith. It was incisive and informative, but I got a jolt when on page 189 Waldmann refers to John Bingham, the congressman primarily responsible for writing the Fourteenth Amendment, as "Robert" Bingham. I don't know if any critics caught that when the book came out, but you know certain people will go over Cheney's book with a fine-toothed comb and if she gets a first name wrong it will be on dozens of liberal websites.

Myself, of course, I have a bias for wanting Cheney's book to be excellent. James Madison is my hero.

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