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AMERICA OBSERVED From the 1940s to the 1980s by Alistair Cooke (Collier: $8.95)

December 10, 1989|CHARLES SOLOMON

Before he became the genial host of "Masterpiece Theater," Alistair Cooke served as American correspondent for the Manchester Guardian. While he wrote with obvious love about his adopted country, this collection of articles shows he was also a singularly honest and articulate observer. He chronicles the progress of the civil rights struggle, reflects on his admiration for Roosevelt and Truman and offers a surprisingly modest portrait of the aging Frank Lloyd Wright. In a more critical piece, he presents Mary McCarthy's acidulous comments on the U.S. involvement in Vietnam with almost clinical detachment, leaving the reader to draw his own conclusions. A bracing example of contemporary journalism at its literary best.

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