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Grasping for the Wind: The Search for Meaning in the 20th Century Hardcover – 1 May 2001

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From the Back Cover

Grasping for the Wind is an incisive and powerful analysis of 20th century Western civilization: what historical and cultural forces have shaped it and where it is headed. From Rembrandt, to the French Revolution, to Marilyn Monroe, to Martin Luther King, to the Beatles, to Stanley Kubrick, to MTV, to the Internet and beyond, lawyer and social commentator John Whitehead reveals the threads of influence that weave this present age.

The overarching theme of this book might best be expressed by the title of a Paul Gaugin masterpiece: Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? Drawing on his formidable grasp of history, Whitehead reveals how the different ways in which society has sought to answer these questions through the centuries have influenced how we address them today.

"We seem to be at the end of a long experiment which began in the eighteenth century with philosophers such as Voltaire," says Whitehead. "The experiment has altered the traditional concepts of religion, art, music, and life itself. People now appear to be mere parts in the so-called machinery of life. If there is to be a restoration of hope and beauty, it must begin with the recovery of an appreciation for the uniqueness of each human being."

Writing from a third-millennial vantage point, Whitehead examines the progressive, unfolding interweaving of religion, philosophy, politics, the arts, psychology, and sociology. He explores the impact of jazz on sexual liberation . . . how World War II made death invisible, abstract, and indiscriminate . . . the impact of novelists on the upheavals of the 1960s . . . the protest movement of America's youth and the forces behind it, such as Bob Dylan . . . how the Beatles heralded change and offered hope to the youth culture . . . how technology continues to blur the line between humans and machines . . . and much more.

Here, from one of the most controversial and outspoken thinkers in today's public arena, is a brilliant, broad-ranging explication of 20th century culture: its building blocks, its notable landmarks, and its far-reaching influence. Grasping for the Wind is essential reading for all who seek to better understand the questions that continue to haunt our civilization, and for anyone interested in popular culture and its development.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.0 out of 5 stars 5 reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Grasping for the Wind 18 July 2012
By Jane McKay - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The book is how events and people influenced religion in the 20th century. John Whitehead writes from the French Revolution to Marilyn Monroe and beyond. This is a powerful analysis of Western civilation.
13 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A moving synthesis of art, politics, and philosophy . . . 12 Jun. 2001
By Hunter Baker - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Constitutional lawyer John Whitehead displays a flexible intellect as he explores the intellectual and social movements in art, music, film, literature, politics, and philosophy over the past century. The book is extremely readable and provides an interesting way to survey vast amounts of accumulated thought. Readers will be hard pressed to reconcile the fact that Paula Jones' attorney and the writer of this book are the same man.
2 of 8 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Grasping for the Wind (book) 27 May 2010
By John A. Shaw - Published on
Format: Hardcover
This seems like an interesting book about 20th century culture and at the beginning reads like a slightly more pop culture oriented version of a history channel production about the world since advent of the Enlightenment. The tone is light and the connections made quickly. However there is a snake in this garden. The author keeps introducing figures like Voltaire and Rousseau and then hinting darkly that they undercut the basis of western civilization - one possible opinion of course, but the theme that becomes clear more and more as the book proceeds is that everyone the author discusses will be shown in some way a destroyer of western moral values. Kant, Darwin, Marx, etc get casual slap downs and the book flashes forwards to how in the 20th century their ideas, exemplified in movies, rock music, and art of course, are utterly destructive. I didn't read far enough to see what the author may propose as an alternative to modernity and in the right hands this type of critique might have come off, but the author is just sneaking in his conservative views as "obvious" conclusions and there is no intellectual depth to give the argument bite. This has been done much better in other more balanced presentations. I resisted the urge to throw this book across the room after the first 50 pages then quietly put it on the shelf of books to be traded away next time I go to a used book store that might give me trade credit for this piece of clap-trap.

I give it two stars instead of one because the author does make a few interesting connections along the way and does not bore the reader too much. The snarky asides though make you think of a priveleged white guy, with a slightly better than average education, giving a powerpoint at the country club about how the world has gone down hill since the Middle Ages and blames the Holocaust on Darwin and Modern Art. Oh yeah, btw Jazz is amoral, Rock is narcissistic, modern architecture has no soul, blah, blah, blah.
2 of 14 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Idiosyncratic! 27 Oct. 2005
By Amazon Customer - Published on
Format: Hardcover
The writer, in his own view, depicts how art is used through ages to portray the sociological, philosophical, political and economical trends of those particular ages. However, the author fails to see how also art is used in a mercantilist way, without a single clue to express the trendy message of the time, but to become the next big-new thing in the market. Finally, the author sees to much into art to look for reasons and reactions to socio-economic trends here in the US and the world, while in the mind of many artist, their aim to produce a piece that will produce a more comfortable and secure financial present and why not future, is not addressed in this book! I have to add, the research on every artist and piece of art addressed here is thoroughly done, accurate and very well documented. My two stars are actually for his research but not the theme of the book.
10 of 35 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars What's the point? 20 Aug. 2001
By A Customer - Published on
Format: Hardcover
He says that "we seem to be at the end of a long experiment..." This book is a collection of ridiculous historical observations with an astonishing lack of depth from a constitutional lawyer, and the author rolls over every possible historical event like a steamroller. The book presents itself as history, but it's really the author lamenting the loss of Christian values and how technology has been bad for society. Strange.
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