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Let the Devil Speak: Articles, Essays, and Incitements

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From the author of American Dictators and The Last Three Miles comes a collection of essays that explore the terrain where history, politics and culture overlap -- and ignite. Find out how a segregationist governor's appearance on The Dick Cavett Show sparked one of the greatest concept albums of the Seventies, an album that pointed the way to the political clashes of today. See how a generation of American writers taught the world a new way to dream, and how they were cheated of credit when their work was used for a blockbuster film franchise. Explore the dark creation that resulted when composer Charles Mingus collaborated with radio raconteur Jean Shepherd. Read appreciations of Kenneth Fearing, Gore Vidal, and Jacob Bronowski. Best of all, learn why Rick Perlstein, the New York Times bestselling author of Nixonland and The Invisible Bridge , said "Steven Hart wields a straight-razor for a pen . . . a true American essayist."

204 pages, Paperback

First published September 22, 2014

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Steven Hart

24 books5 followers

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Displaying 1 - 4 of 4 reviews
January 20, 2020
Let the Devil Speak is one of the most astounding collections of essays I have ever read. It covers politics and music, right through to journalism and literature. The way Hart writes is a joy, and I honestly think that everyone in the world should be made to read this.

The opening essay, "He May be a Fool, But He's Our Fool" was certainly a strong way to open. It's shocking how relevant an essay on the making of Randy Newman's album "Good Old Boys" could be in shining a light on the current political climate. It touched on the fallibility of memory, the civil rights movement, and also the subtlety of satire. It's also where the collection gets its name:
The principle is simple: If your story has a devil (and most stories do) then you have to let him talk. You have to give your villain - your devil - a speech, and you have to make it a good one...letting the devil speak is necessary, but dangerous. Sometimes the devil can make seductive arguments based on law and truth. But even when the devil speaks the truth, it is always in the service of a greater lie.

There was a lot to love about Let the Devil Speak. Each essay has a different focus and style, but every one of them is equally worthy. Even if you don't know the people or incidents that Hart is writing about, he gives such a sense of context that you feel you knew about them all along. The collection is not long, and despite the intelligence of its contents, was easy to read and understand. Essayist very often hide their points under language designed to either make the reader feel stupid or to ensure that the reader can congratulate themselves on their intelligence. Let the Devil Speak does neither. Hart doesn't moderate his vocabulary, but he also writes in a way that gives context and is therefore easy to follow.

What I like most about Let the Devil Speak is that it's relevant, not self-congratulatory. It says something important, and I think we should all take the time to listen.
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Author 24 books172 followers
December 29, 2014
Smart, witty, acerbic essays about American culture, literature, and music. The book's real tour de force is the first chapter, "He May Be a Fool, But He's Our Fool", which proceeds from a curious juxtaposition between two cultural events: racist Georgia Governor Lester Maddox' contentious appearance on the "Dick Cavett Show" and Randy Newman's seminal 1974 album "Good Old Boys." Newman had often said that the Maddox appearance, where Newman felt the Governor was treated unfairly, was the inspiration for the album's opening track "Rednecks." Steven Hart uses that connection to trace not only the divergent careers of Newman and Maddox, but the thread of bitter, corrosive resentment, inevitably tinged with racism, which runs through right wing politics to this day.

My favorite passage is the one about Pat Buchanan's "culture war" speech at the 1992 Republican convention. Hart writes: "the imperturbably sunny face of the Reagan Presidency had been replaced by a frothing troglodyte with an anti-tax pledge in one paw and a picture of a bloody fetus in the other." That passage perfectly sums up the moment when I got off the moderate fence I'd been sitting on during the first George H.W. Bush term and threw in with the liberals.

It's not all politics, however: "The Ents From The Orcs" provides a fascinating glimpse of another particular moment in time that left an indelible mark on our culture: a night-long conversation in 1931 between three Oxford University academics (Henry Victor Dyson, C.S. Lewis, and J.R.R. Tolkien) that led to the writing of Lewis' "Chronicles of Narnia" and Tolkien's Middle Earth series. "Bruno" is an appreciation of the life and work of the late Jacob Bronowski (of "Ascent of Man" fame). All of the essays share the same insight and sharp, incisive, sometimes cutting prose. I found myself nodding along in some places, laughing out loud in others. Great book, and highly recommended.
31 reviews
April 14, 2020
You will have a truly irresistible desire to listen to Randy Newman after reading "He may be a fool, but he's our fool". I don't think there can be higher praise for an essay.

The rest of the entries are consistently incisive, with the pieces in the Iraq war as stand outs.
Profile Image for Chris J.
61 reviews4 followers
February 18, 2015
I think Hart was at his best as an essayist. His vision was clear, but even better, he had the right words to describe what he saw. Hart worked at his craft. Favorite: He May Be a Fool, But He's Our Fool.
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