The Blog

Joseph Shattan, 1950-2014

3:45 PM, Jun 8, 2014 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
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But my second tour of duty in the White House— as a speechwriter for President Bush and Vice President Cheney—was a different experience entirely. There now was hardly any need for me to visit the library—a team of extremely bright young college computer whizzes was always at my beck and call, and they would invariably supply me with more information than I could possibly absorb about the most abstruse and varied subjects. Still, for old time’s sake, I’d sometimes visit the White House library. For the most part, the same librarians were still there, and to my considerable satisfaction, they actually remembered me—I guess I was one of their best customers in the old days. But now the library, though still breathtakingly beautiful, appeared to have fallen on hard times. Gone was the hustle and bustle, the air of excitement, that I recalled so well. Even the librarians themselves, though friendly and helpful as always, seemed curiously listless. It was as though some of the air had gone out of the balloon. Who needs librarians, after all, when you’ve got the boundless riches of the Internet at your disposal?

Have America’s librarians become a vanishing species? My wife received her master’s degree from the Columbia University School of Library Science, yet today that school no longer exists—it expired around the same time that the Soviet Union did. Apparently, the demand for librarians has declined drastically in recent years. And even in my own home, the library that my wife and I lovingly assembled over the years is subject to scorn and ridicule. “If your library had existed in the days before computers,” my younger son recently informed me, “it might have been worth something. Now, it’s worthless.” Nice child.

Well, I intend to prove the little wise guy wrong. All these past years, when equipping my personal library with such weighty tomes as Disraeli by Robert Blake, The Experience of Literatureby Lionel Trilling, and Sabbatai Sevi: The Mystical Messiah by Gershom S. Scholem, I’d say, “This is my retirement reading.” Now, all of a sudden, my retirement is upon me. It’s time I got to work.

Joe didn't stay retired long—he took a job at the Heritage Foundation, which he enjoyed, and whose tribute to Joe is here. I don't know how much of his library he had time to make his way through before his untimely death. But Joe lived a full (if unfortunately too short) life, and he lived a life very much worth living. We, his friends and admirers, join his beloved wife Janie, his sons Lewis and Phillip, and his family in mourning his passing.

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