Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Simple questions for a great mind

The recently deceased Tony Judt was a treasure. His Reappraisals is one of my favorite reads re 20th-century history and his many essays were always a treat, the kind of thing you flip to and read first.

The December 23, 2010, issue of the New York Review of Books contained Judt's "The Glory of the Rails," a wonderful sketch of rail travel and how it changed the post-1830s world. Quite predictably, this was followed by Judt's "Bring Back the Rails" (Jan 13). The author emphasizes what he sees as rail's key contribution to civil society.

But Judt never asks "at what cost?" And he does add this: "... it is possible (and in many places today actively under consideration) to imagine public policy mandating a steady reduction in the nonnecessary use of private cars and trucks."

Which trips are "nonnecessary"? And who does the "mandating"? I will never understand how and why well meaning and smart people can be so casual about other people's liberties and so naive about the economy about which they opine.

Both of Judt's essays are non-gated and worth reading.