Things That Matter

by: Charles Krauthammer

I admit it - my reading habit is so huge that I am way behind - the pile beside my bed grows ever higher. Yes, one day, I may be found buried under a fallen stack of unread books, novels, biographies, and nonfiction. But, I will have gone out as I lived: in a stack of reading material!

One of those books I have had for quite a while and finally, joyfully, gotten around to, is Charles Krauthammer's collection of essays, Things That Matter.

I have always found pundit Krauthammer to be, while decidedly right of center, a very sensible voice amid the noise, whining, repetition and screeching that passes for opinion journalism these days.

Perhaps this is in part because he is a moving target: he began as a medical student, and practiced psychiatry for a number of years. His early political writing was for The New Republic and Walter Mondale. A Democrat and a Time Magazine essayist, he eventually became a Reagan Republican, and, as is the case with many who change their party affiliation, felt he had not moved so much as his party had.

In Krauthammer's case, I think this is probably honest. While he is an opinion panelist on Fox News, the bĂȘte noire of the far-left (perhaps even of the mid-left), Krauthammer is not one to either preach to the choir, or spout party line. His opinions are his own, and he speaks them eloquently.

Perhaps some of Krauthammer's unblinking honesty is because he is a man who has faced one of the worst nightmares imaginable: as a young man, a diving accident left him paralyzed from the neck down. He was only 22, a medical student, studying, of all things, neurology. There is a heartbreaking picture of him standing arrogant and physically perfect, at 22, on the beach, taken the summer before his accident. The damage caused by the accident can be seen in his labored inspirations when he talks, but in little else. He remains handsome, relaxed, and has been remarkably successful on the merits - perhaps one instructor gave him a "special" chance by allowing him to continue medical school with a tutor while he was still hospitalized, and remain on track with his class. But the work was, and is,  all his own.

His collection of essays isn't arranged chronologically, as you might expect. but rather by topic. This was an inspired choice, as we can see his evolving thinking in a variety of veins, from the sort-of-silly (In Defense of the F-word) to the profoundly important (Holy Terror).

His personal history informs some of his writing, such as a discussion of stem-cells, and whether they promise redemption for cases such as his own, or the question of waging war against those who would, in the name of their god, destroy others or target people of another faith.

Some of his essays are just amusing musings, such as the silliness (I agree with him!) of affecting an accent when speaking English but naming another country, or person not from America (so, do we say "Pare-is," or "Pah-ree" when referring to the French capital?). Others are sweet and insightful, such as "Save the Border Collie." Ok, I happen to have an abiding love of Border Collies, those intensely intelligent herding dogs who just need a job to keep them happy. He objects to the possibility that they will become show dogs, thus breeding out the brains in favor of the beauty. He has a point there, too!

Yet other essays are pointedly political - and not always what you would expect. Yes, he was a hawk following the 9/11 attack; at the same time, he can idolize Martin Luther King, Jr., and not in the typically right-of-center pandering way. He means it.

He is an intellect of great power and inquisitiveness, but his prose is spare and to the point. His essays are easy to read, yet challenging to think about. I found myself sipping them, as it were. I would read one, perhaps up to four, at a sitting, then put the book aside. The "conversation" was stimulating and left me with much to think about. I didn't always agree (though I cop to probably a 90% agree rate), but I most certainly remained respectful of the man's well-thought-out opinions.

His writing is true to his on-screen persona: gentle, gentlemanly, firm, kind without being mawkish, and, dare I say it again: smart.

So no matter what your political persuasion, whether you listen to Fox News or would rather jam burning sticks in your ears, Krauthammer is worth the read.


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