WHAT’S THE SINGLE BEST THING WE MADE IN THE LAST 100 YEARS?
Among the essays that make up the recently published Life: Our Century of Change (edited by Richard B. Stolley, with Tony Chiu, Bulfinch Press, $60.00)—John Leonard on entertainment, Barbara Ehrenreich on shopping, Richard Rodriguez on race—is one on engineering, in which the computer scientist and critic David Gelernter has the audacity to nominate his choice for the Object of the Century:
“If you line up the very best objects of the 20th Century, the loveliest and most powerful ones, you will have sculpture by Giacometti and Joseph Cornell, Matisse cutouts, abstract paintings by de Kooning and a nude or two by Modigliani; you will also have paintings by Stuart Davis that are full of machine images. And you will have the machines themselves. The P-51 Mustang fighter (first flown in its definitive form—American airframe, British engine—in 1942) might well be the 20th Century’s most beautiful object. It has surging grace, uncanny poise, moral grandeur—embodying the power and heroism that ventures everything to defend home and freedom and truth. Eventually you will find a P-51 at the center of some great American art museum, and then you will know that this country has finally come to terms with the last century and its machines and their greatness.”