Leading Lights

John Simon in The Washington Post:Thinkers

CULTURAL AMNESIA: Necessary Memories From History and the Arts by Clive James.

Let us concede some things to Clive James right away. He is, or can be, a brilliantly original thinker; he is, or can be, a brilliant writer. He has read voraciously and multifariously on any number of subjects and put it all to excellent use. He has taught himself several languages, including some Japanese, by means of serious reading with the dictionary by his side. And having journeyed all over the world and sojourned in many places, this Australian is truly cosmopolitan.

Such a wealth of prerequisites suggests the ideal author for Cultural Amnesia, an 876-page book assembling brief essays about epochal figures in history (including politics, sociology and philosophy) and the arts. There are film directors and actors, jazz musicians, a fashion designer (Coco Chanel), an opera singer (Zinka Milanov) and, like James himself, a television host (Dick Cavett). Intellectual prowess so nearly encyclopedic comes at a price; it is hard for its possessor not to feel omniscient, his taste unimpeachable.

More here.