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The President, the Pope, and the Prime Minister: Three Who Changed the World

August 21, 2007

National Review Editor-At-Large John O. Sullivan speaks (audio) about his new book Tuesday night to the David Horowitz Freedom Center Book Club.

Video of Michael Finch's introduction. Video of Sullivan's 35-minute speech. Video of John O'Sullivan taking questions for 20 minutes.

I run into an acquaintance I haven't seen in about a year.

"Where's that blonde woman you're always following around?" he asks.

"Cathy Seipp?"

"Yeah."

"She's dead."

On March 22, Sullivan wrote this tribute to Seipp.

When I told John I was a blogger, he asked for my website address.

I gave him my card.

"I've heard of you," he says.

We pause to think how on earth this gentleman had heard of me and then we realize -- it was through Cathy.

Even though she's no longer shlepping me around, Cathy's still helping me meet a better crowd.

On August 20, Sullivan was on Hugh Hewitt's show for three hours. Hour One. Two. Three.

Tonight, Sullivan says: "Did anyone predict [the fall of communism]? I think I know personally all the people who did. Brian Crozier [sp?] told me in the early '80s that communism would collapse within a few years, by the end of the decade. He subequently forgot that he had told me this. Robert Conquest, the great Sovietologist made a similar prediction though he didn't set a date on it. I was lucky enough to meet before his death Andrei Amalrik, who wrote the book "Will The Soviet Union Collapse Before 1984?" When that book came out, people dismissed it as absurd."

Sullivan concluded this way: "We have one example that they [Regan, Thatcher and the pope] didn't. We have their example."

In the question time, I ask: "Where does your book break new ground?"

John: "In a number of places, particularly in my use of the Soviet archives [now largely closed under Putin]."

At 3 p.m. Tuesday, I set up shop at the Starbucks on Barrington Court (on Barrington just south of Sunset Blvd.). Over the next three and a half hours, I consume two Orange Blossom iced teas and one Green Tea frapuccino and Paul Johnson's book Art: A New History (all sized venti).

Looking up from my book at 5:30 p.m., I see Dustin Hoffman walk by with a young man. They disappear into the restaurant Brentwood.

I curse myself for not having my camera. Last night and this morning I came upon fresh spectacular car accidents (glass slivers across the road) but I didn't have my camera.

I must bear witness.

From Publishers Weekly:

Having produced in a fairly short span equally weighty histories of the Jewish diaspora, the modern world and America, as well as a number of smaller books and a stream of articles, near-septuagenarian Johnson, historian, journalist, conservative gadfly and Sunday painter, has produced a massive and contentious history of art. Johnson (Intellectuals) is a product not of the cloistered academy but of the rough-and-tumble world of British journalism (before his conversion to Toryism he edited the left weekly New Statesman). While his narrative is for the most part a conventional journey through the canon, his headlong pace, quirky views and pungent prose make it anything but dull. The quick, forceful judgments Johnson makes on the art and artists he encounters are always amusing and sometimes enlightening, particularly his attention to the undervalued "regional" realist traditions of the 19th century. But the tone of constant bluff provocation can become wearying, and the book's putative polemical mission-to help develop an appreciation of art that would help "society defend itself against cultural breakdown"-doesn't really make itself felt until the book's last and weakest section, a rather scanty section on modernism and postmodernism that is pure New Criterion-style cultural conservatism. All writers of single volume art histories must contend with the rightly ubiquitous and magisterial Janson and Gombrich, and despite its wealth of free-flowing ideas and 300 handsome reproductions, Johnson's book (which also lacks a bibliography and footnotes) simply cannot compete. But as a passionate amateur's personal survey, the first seven-eighths of Johnson's history bring a refreshing sense of bluntness to an often staid tradition.