Friday, October 5, 2012

The Time of Illusion

1976, possibly first paperback edition, from Vintage Books
Jonathan Schell
The Time of Illusion
Original price $3.95, purchase price unknown
Worn paperback with torn backcover

Schell approaches "the Nixon era" from a different angle than Lukas, so that the books complement each other.  For instance, Agnew is almost absent from Lukas's book, except in the chapter named after him, while here Agnew is a key figure in the Nixon administration's crafting of image.  The title refers to the way that Nixon and his staff tried to shape reality, and resented other interpretations, by press, other politicians, and ordinary Americans.  There's much more interpretation than in Nightmare, and in fact less focus on Watergate and other scandals, or only to the degree that they contained the seeds of disillusionment.

Although not a feminist writer as such, Schell's discussion of the ways that nuclear power paradoxically made the President and his predecessors feel impotent-- and yes, there is a sexual element to that, as when Agnew called people "eunuchs" and JFK worried about the U.S. seeming soft-- that no one in my collection has addressed as yet, but which prefigures Helen Caldicott.  (The revised version of Missile Envy will be in 1986).  He also talks about the reasons why Nixon would deliberately contradict himself, for instance, sometimes posing as a war leader and other times as a man of peace, which suggests that many of the inconsistencies in I Want to Make One Thing Perfectly Clear were on purpose.

Just as Nightmare began in The New York Times Magazine, most of this book had previously appeared in The New Yorker.  He'd earlier reported on the Vietnam War, and went on to oppose the invasion of Iraq in 2003.  Like Caldicott, he remains an anti-nuclear activist.

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