Saturday, January 19, 2008

Five best books about fanaticism

Alan Charles Kors, a professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania and editor in chief of the recent Encyclopedia of the Enlightenment (Oxford), named a five best list of "works about fanaticism" for the Wall Street Journal.

One title on the list:
Son of the Revolution
By Liang Heng and Judith Shapiro
Knopf, 1983

There are many remarkable works, both scholarly and autobiographical, on the fanaticism of Mao's Cultural Revolution in China, a moment that casts its shadow to this day over the campaign's agents, its victims and those who were both. None of these books, however, has the simplicity, nuance, eye for detail, and focus on essentials of Liang Heng's "Son of the Revolution," written by Liang and Judith Shapiro (an American who taught him in China and whom he married). Liang and Shapiro describe with painful honesty, insight and wisdom his transition from "Chairman Mao's good little boy" to a young Red Guard locally acting out his hostilities; from a zealous participant in the nationwide horror of the Cultural Revolution to a victim and compassionate observer of what had befallen both his country and the individuals he loved. In particular, the authors show the shattering effect on the individual and on the human social fabric of a movement that declared no aspect of life to be outside of politics. They take you there, and you understand.
Read more about Kors' list.

--Marshal Zeringue