4.24.2007

David Halberstam is dead

David Halberstam is dead, and that makes me sad.

I'm not going to bother trying to eulogize someone I never met, but he was, in my opinion, the greatest living American writer. And now, I guess, he's not. When I think of people with just pure story-telling chops (whose stuff I've read), regardless of their nationality or whether they're alive, he's near the very top of my list. Gabriel Garcia Marquez beats him out. Maybe James Jones. Maybe Alan Moore. Maybe Carl Hiaasen (again, purely in terms of ability to almost physically seize you with the strength of a narrative). Tom Wolfe isn't quite there, though he'd like to think he is.

And that's pretty much it. This isn't to discount other writers, it's to say that he was just that good.

While I was not a huge fan of his nostalgic sports books of recent years (meaning I didn't read them, I probably would've devoured them had I started them), the man wrote some of the most personally influential books I've ever read. I can't think of a book of his that I read and didn't like. I also can't think of one that I was easily able to put down. I mean Jesus, the guy wrote a book about the corporate politics of the automobile industry that had me riveted.

The Best & The Brightest
and The Children should both be required reading for every American. I loved The Powers That Be and Breaks of the Game (required reading for every Portlander). These are all (save Breaks) gargantuan, and are all non-fiction. The amount of talent and intellect involved in writing a 900 page book that's actually interesting throughout is astounding. There are people who can write good sentences and people who can write good paragraphs, but he just wrote good books. And he just kept writing them, and writing them, and they never stopped being incredible.

And thinking about it, the main thing that strikes me is his enormous empathy. The amazing thing about his books, and this is likely a product of the enormous amount of interviews he did, is that there's never a villain, as such. The Best & The Brightest is an absolutely heart-rending story about how the U.S. got so entangled in Vietnam, and many of his books are about great tragedies (whether noticed as such or not) of American life, but throughout them we're always able to understand that the men and women making decisions that lead to such disastrous consequences are normal people, often good people, and perhaps even abnormally talented and good people, with moral codes and true desires to do the right thing.

I feel incredibly ineloquent (is that even a word), and I could just keep rambling and rambling, so I'll just leave it at this:

I am a better person for having read David Halberstam's books.

And that's how we get back to the new "things that make me happy" theme of the website.

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