CSU, Chico News

Historian’s ‘Journey to the Abyss’ Makes the Atlantic’s Top 10 New Books for 2011

Date: 11-22-2011

Kathleen McPartland
Public Affairs

Benjamin Schwartz, literary editor for the Atlantic, has chosen his top books of the year, and “Journey to the Abyss: The Diaries of Count Harry Kessler, 1880–1918” (Knopf, November 2011), edited by California State University, Chico history professor Laird Easton, is among his top 10 choices.

Schwartz chose his top five books, which will be listed in the December issue of the Atlantic, and then included five runners-up, with Easton’s book among them. “Journey to the Abyss” is Easton’s edited translation of the journals of Kessler, an Anglo-German art patron, who was also a museum director, writer, publisher, soldier, secret agent and pacifist.

Easton, chair of the Department of History at CSU, Chico, is also the author of “The Red Count: The Life and Times of Harry Kessler”(University of California Press, 2002).

Schwartz writes in his review of “Journey to the Abyss”: “He [Kessler] was cosmopolitan, and a member of a new aristocracy. He grew up in Paris, in England, in Germany, and on Staten Island. Though his mother was Anglo-Irish, Count Harry Kessler was, or became, intensely German, as if by a sort of tragic choice; and he also became, through his experiences and through the anguished searching of his spirit, something close to a representative man.”

Easton said of Kessler’s diary that it is one of the greatest ever written, “comparable in its stature to those of Samuel Pepys, André Gide, Henri Frédéric Amiel, Beatrice Webb or Virginia Woolf.”

Editing and translating Kessler’s diary was no small task, said Easton. “Seven years after I first had the idea, and after a good three and a half years of solid work, the book is finally completed and published,” said Easton. “Nine hundred pages, 60 illustrations, chronicling 38 years of a man who indeed was everywhere and knew everyone, from the artists and writers to the statesmen and generals.”

Easton will give a brief talk and reading from “Journey to the Abyss” at an event on Sunday, Dec. 11, 5–8 p.m. at 1078 Gallery, located at 820 Broadway in Chico. Copies of the book will be available for purchase and for signing by Easton. The event is free and open to the public.