the danger of fatuous overstatement


“Every sport has a supreme chronicler,” The Philadelphia Inquirer said in 1994. “Nobody has written about baseball like Roger Angell. Nobody has written about golf like Bernard Darwin. Nobody has written about boxing like A.J. Liebling. Nobody has written about
the outdoors like Nelson Bryant.”

— Nelson Bryant, ‘Supreme Chronicler’ of Outdoor Life, Dies at 96, by Robert D. McFadden, The New York Times, January 13, 2020



A set of sweeping generalizations. Sounds good. But are they true?

When it comes to baseball writing, about which I know something, Roger Angell is very good. But he is nowhere near to being the best baseball writer, journalistic or otherwise, of all time.

Beware of the fatuous overstatement, designed to knock the reader’s socks off:

No American writer can match Faulkner.

Pop music was never the same after “Yesterday.”

The Nobel Prize is the greatest honor an individual can achieve.

The moon landing was the defining moment of the Sixties.

9/11 was the greatest calamity mankind has ever known.

Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” is the most inspiring music ever written.

The Declaration of Independence is the most profound political statement ever penned.


— Roger W. Smith

   January 2020

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