Review of "Variety of Men" by C.P. Snow. Copyright 1966, 1967 C.P. Snow
"The chapters on Lloyd George and G. H. Hardy appeared first in *The Atlantic Monthly,* the chapter on Einstein in *Commentary,* and the chapter on Stalin in *Esquire*."
This quote let's us know this is a collection of original essays. Yet, they aren't essays, they are the author's "personal impressions" left-over from actual encounters (job interviews, private conversations, committee meetings) of the author with the subject. The subjects of interest are:
G.H. Hardy 21
H.G. Wells 63
Lloyd George 123
Winston Churchill 149
Robert Frost 173
Dag Hammarskjold 201
The author's Preface is just delightful. So personable. It is the author's own inner dialogue come to life. He explains that he believes he is being honest in these personal impressions. And, he wants his words to be taken, "no more than that". He "met them all except for Stalin," but also studied them and the "standard works about them (and, in some cases, the works less well known) as carefully as I can." He wants us to know that when he "reports remarks in direct speech, I believe that my memory is accurate, and that they were said in those words, or in words closely similar."
The honesty he vouchsafes comes with a warning. "These remarks which stuck in my memory, and which I can vouch for, were usually said in the course of prolonged conversations. The rest has gone, or left only a general impression of its sense. By abstracting the words which most impressed or amused me, I may sometimes without intending to have introduced an emphasis of my own. I don't think I have, but I ought to give the warning."
One of the things that stands out in this work is how the author compares and contrasts the geniuses he writes about. Here are some samples that show how he is able to tell us about Hardy directly or by contrasting him with Einstein and Rutherford:
"His mind, as I have just mentioned, was brilliant and concentrated: so much so that by his side anyone else's seemed a little muddy, a little pedestrian and confused. He wasn't a great genius, as Einstein and Rutherford were."
"There is something else, though, at which he was clearly superior to Einstein or Rutherford or any other great genius: and that is at turning any work of the intellect, major or minor or sheer play, into a work of art."
"Much of his childhood, unlike Einstein's, was typical of a future mathematician's. He was demonstrating a formidably high I.Q. as soon as, or before, he learned to talk."
"Nevertheless, he had to live with an over-delicate nature. He seems to have been born with three skins too few. Unlike Einstein, who had to subjugate his powerful ego in the study of the external world before he could attain his moral stature, Hardy had to strengthen an ego which wasn't much protected. This at times in later life made him self-assertive (as Einstein never was) when he had to take a moral stand. On the other hand, it gave him his introspective insight and beautiful candor, so that he could speak of himself with absolute simplicity (as Einstein never could)."
Or, here, on pages 27 and 28 comparing him again to Einstein and then to the educational well-fare that a country takes for its geniuses:
"He was a classical anti-narcissist. He could not endure having his photograph taken: so far as I know, there are not half-a-dozen photographs in existence. He would not have any looking-glass in his rooms, not even a shaving mirror...this would have been odd enough, if his face had been like a gargoyle: superficially it might seem odder, since all his life he was good-looking quite out of the ordinary. But, of course, narcissism and anti-narcissism have nothing to do with looks as outside observers see them.
"This behavior seems eccentric, and indeed it was. Between him and Einstein, though, there was a difference in kind. Those who spent much time with Einstein--such as Infeld--found him grow stranger, less like themselves, the longer they knew him. I am certain that I should have felt the same. With Hardy the opposite was true. His behavior was often different, bizarrely so, from ours: but it came to seem a kind of superstructure set upon a nature which wasn't all that different from our own, except that it was more delicate, less padded, finer-nerved."
"His family had no money, only a schoolmaster's income, but they were in touch with the best education advice of late nineteenth century England. That particular kind of information has always been more significant in this country than any amount of wealth. The scholarships have been there all right, if one knew how to win them. There was never the slightest chance of the young Hardy being lost--as there was of the young Wells or the young Einstein. From the age of twelve, he had only to survive, and his talents would be looked after."
I hope this taste of Mr. Snow's insights into these remarkable men has sparked enough of an interest in you to make a purchase today.