Book Review: The 40s: The Story of a Decade / The New Yorker

The 40s: The Story of a Decade / The New Yorker
Edited by Henry Finder with Giles Harvey

Many readers of The New Yorker will be pleasantly surprised to learn that the voice of the magazine, its style and its reporting, are nearly the same as when the magazine was writing the story of the World War II decade. Reading these New Yorker articles, contemporary accounts of world history and the life of the mind of that era, is to consistently remind oneself that the writers didn’t know how anything was going to turn out. We do not have to imagine the shock of Paris at the disintegration of their nation’s defenses in 1940. We can feel it through the writing of the New Yorker journalist, A. J Leibling, in Paris as France fell to the Nazis.

Which of the New Yorker essays we read today will be seen as essential to the history of our day?

Today we enjoy The New Yorker’s essay-form character studies and can enjoy the collection of studies from the 1940s. We meet Le Corbusier, the architectural genius, at the height of his power and fame, as he invades New York to plan the United Nations complex. He compared Manhattan to a rotting fish and said its buildings were too small and too close together. Unknown at the time was that the international movement he led would soon be seen as mistaken.

Contributors to this collection of essays and poetry include many writers still widely admired: Edmund Wilson, Rebecca West, John Hersey, and E. B. White among them. George Orwell, Lionel Trilling, and W. H. Auden offer reviews. Auden, Langston Hughes, Ogden Nash, and Stephen Spender are among the poets included. The great story by Shirley Jackson, "The Lottery," as well as stories by the great writers of a great age for writing: Carson McCullers, John O’Hara, John Cheever, and Irwin Shaw head the list.

This is an ideal book for half hour reads. Each essay gives one so much to ponder that it is difficult to think about reading the book straight through. If you love The New Yorker, you will love The 40s: The Story of a Decade.

David Blake
Fiction Department
Central Library