Rick Brookheiser on Washington Irving

Ulster County weekender, historian, writer, and all-around brilliant guy, Rick Brookheiser hails the author of “Rip Van Winkle” and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” as he discusses a new biography of Irving.

Brookheiser writes:

Before you read “The Original Knickerbocker,” Andrew Burstein’s engrossing biography, before you even finish this review, find a volume of Washington Irving’s best stories and read the best of the best: “Rip Van Winkle,” “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” “The Mutability of Literature.” There are bigger stories in the world, but none that are better made.

They begin in the clear, warm voice of a capable journalist and a truly nice guy; they depict old times or distant places in clean, precise detail; they evoke some real horror–loss of identity, implacable pursuit, death followed by oblivion–before ending in comedy, sentiment and wisdom. Irving tells primal tales with the polish of a good after-dinner speaker. He is so completely charming that we can forget we have been charmed; so quietly moving that, like my friend, we don’t remember who moved us.

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