“The smartest man who ever lived”


John Leonard has died.  I wasn’t around to read the New York Times book review section when he was running things, so I mostly knew him as the guy who wrote the “New Books” column for Harper’s, an informed and highly entertaining ramble which invariably caused my already teetering “To Read” pile to grow to dangerous new heights every month.

The breadth of his literary knowledge was amazing.  As Kurt Vonnegut said, “When I start to read John Leonard, it is as though I, while simply looking for the men’s room, blundered into a lecture by the smartest man who ever lived.”

The late Studs Terkel hit upon something else that made Leonard great when he described him as “a literary critic in the noblest sense of the word,” one who “didn’t determine whether a book was `good or bad’ but wrote with a point of view of how you should read the book.” As someone who seemed to see the value in reading almost anything and everything, Leonard focused on the hows and whys, rather then the whether or nots.

This is a very sad day for books everywhere.  As usual, I’ll leave the heavy lifting to my betters:

John Leonard remembered on Salon
Some of his work from the New York Review of Books
His Washington Post obit
His Boston Globe obit
“John Leonard taught me to write”

-Norm De Plume

Published in: on November 7, 2008 at 12:00 pm  Comments (3)  

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. CBS Sunday Morning had a very nice tribute to him yesterday morning.

  2. I forgot about Sunday Morning. Wasn’t he their television critic?

  3. Yes, he was. And a more witty & erudite commentator they’ve never had.

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