A Present of Things past: Selected Essays

A Present of Things past: Selected Essays

A Present of Things past: Selected Essays

A Present of Things past: Selected Essays

Excerpt

The reader may well wonder about the diversity of subjects in this book. The explanation is unavoidably personal.

I have been writing professionally since 1935, a period of over fifty years. In that time I have worked on different, often exceedingly different, subjects, sometimes deliberately, sometimes fortuitously. In fact, looking back, I have rarely stayed with a single subject for more than five years. I get interested in a subject; I devote myself to it; I do what I can with it; I know--or think I know--as much as I want to know; I turn to something else.

Two five-year projects will illustrate how this cycle has worked out.

Sometime in the mid-1950s, I took it into my head that the country needed a straightforward, "traditional" history of American Communism, rather than the mainly tendentious treatments then in vogue. By chance, the Fund for the Republic, which had been set up by the Ford Foundation, wanted to make a large-scale study of the American Communist movement. I was taken on to do the history until 1945; five years and two volumes later, I had managed to reach 1929. My work was completed long afterward by someone else. Nevertheless, I had deliberately chosen this subject and gave it up only because the project's money gave out.

After I had finished these two books, I went on to The Reporter magazine as associate editor. One of my assignments was Latin America, I suppose because I knew some Spanish and had lived for some time in Mexico--or perhaps because no one else wanted to take the job. Fidel Castro had come to power in January 1959, and . . .

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