Scribner's Magazine
Book Reviews by Eli Siegel 1931-1934

From Scribner's, August 1931

Adventures in Genius. By Will Durant. Simon and Schuster. $4.

Mr. Durant has pleased America and is pleasing it again. But talking for myself, I hate to see a certain big writer and colorful dealer with the universe called "Will" Shakespeare; and one of his contemporaries too familiarly termed "Kit" Marlowe. This business of people in 1931 getting chummy, or even fatherly, with some of the great literary departed, is at times wearisome.

Mr. Durant is too intent on "sharing" culture as if it were tea and cake. He is an expositor of thought in the manner of a somewhat too affable hostess in Long Island. Copernicus, for instance, could be dealt with as if he were not simply being exhibited to newly come guests; and Whitman has a touch, if not a world, of roughness and terror in which Mr. Durant is not quite at home.

However, Mr. Durant's powers in the informing and exhibiting line have been underestimated both in their scope and in their importance. Spiritual window-dressing has its place in a world full of hurry and turmoil. For example, though Mr. Durant does not get, it seems to me, to the real caverns of Spengler, he does give the only comprehensive and instructive map of the Spengler world I know.

And Mr. Durant, likewise, takes necessary trips in the land of Anatole France and Gustave Flaubert. He is no Coleridge on Anatole France or Flaubert, but he is a guide with a conscience. Perhaps conscience isn't all that's needed, but conscience is, more than ever, nice in a critic.

For Mr. Durant's disabilities in various noble fields are not those having to do with endeavor and ethics, but those that come out of strictly apprehensive limitations. The author's perceptions have struck a golden mean in two senses of the adjective. He is neither to be scorned nor eulogized, extremely.

Eli Siegel.

Reviews by Eli Siegel from Scribner's Magazines 1931-1934. Copyright 1931, 1932, 1933, 1934 Charles Scribner's Sons; copyrights renewed. Reprinted with the permission of Charles Scribner's Sons.

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