Review by Eliza R. L. McGrawUnsurprisingly, Philip Hamburger's collection of essays from his years at the New Yorker is dedicated to Harold Ross, the curmudgeonly and astute editor who presided over the tenures of such New Yorker writers as James Thurber, E.B. White, and, of course, Hamburger.
Hamburger is in many ways a true Ross production, the kind of writer that made the New Yorker legendary. Friends Talking in the Night delightfully collects his best and most varied moments, from profiles to movie reviews.
Ever the New Yorker himself, Hamburger comments on the mayors of Gotham from the vantage point of his apartment across the street from Gracie Mansion in his 1953 essay, Some People Watch Birds. He writes that Fiorello LaGuardia was the busiest of our recent mayors and he spent, for a mayor, an inordinate amount of time at City Hall. Thanks to this perversity, I didn't see as much of him as I would have liked. Hamburger's comments on world affairs are equally as detailed as those on Gracie Mansion, but naturally graver. In Milan during Northern Italy's 1945 liberation from Fascism, Hamburger stood in the Piazza Loreto as war criminals were executed: There were no roars of bloodcurdling yells; there was only silence and then, suddenly, a sigh a deep, moaning sound, seemingly expressive of release from something dark and fetid. Such serious events evoke Hamburger's more somber tone, providing balance in the collection between his lighter work and his comments on global events.
Any student or lover of writing who leafs through Friends Talking in the Night may have a similar response to the one Hamburger had while watching Jimmy Stewart's 1955 performance in High Noon: The mules know that no ordinary actor has hold of the reins. They know when a star has hold of the reins, and their ears go up. I've seen it happen a hundred times.
Eliza McGraw is a graduate student in English in Nashville, Tennessee.