Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Charles Hill, Henry James, & David Brooks - "A Man on Whom Nothing is Lost"

For many years I've enjoyed the thoughtful and erudite columns of the New York Times' David Brooks. The weekly ponderings of a liberal newspaper's favorite conservative have a way of opening my mind to that which I hadn't considered before. Brooks certainly has his detractors, and its worsened in recent years as few conservatives will claim him and more liberals have become disgruntled that he's not as progressive as they thought - though he really is. And, of course, the critics love to slam him for his pretentious Ivy League elitism. But I still think he's doing some of the best pop culture scholarship around today.

One of my favorite columns by Brooks contains one of my favorite phrases in American literature. It is a phrase from Henry James that I use to guide my students. It's about being "a person on whom nothing is lost." There could be no more lofty goal for aspiring students, and David Brooks used it aptly in describing a Yale professor and career diplomat who had many inspiring life lessons for students in the infamous "Grand Strategy" class. It's a column worth reading and a idea worth pursuing. Brooks describes how Hill was a cosmopolitan man, a renaissance man, who brought an authoritative wisdom to the young intellectuals around him. Here is my favorite part:

Hill was famous for his ability to turn note-taking into an art form. He aspired to be, in Henry James's words, a man ''on whom nothing was lost.'' He observed everything and quietly kept a record.

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