Masterful essays by one of the most distinctive voices in broadcast journalism
In his Letter from America reports for the BBC and as the host of PBS’s Masterpiece Theatre, Alistair Cooke addressed millions of people all over the world every week. The fourteen essays collected here, each of which was first delivered as a speech, showcase the wit, charm, and eloquence of Cooke’s voice in more intimate, but no less intimidating, settings.
In exclusive forums as varied as the Mayo Clinic and a conference of British and American scholars investigating the “state of the language,” Cooke eagerly challenges expert opinions and delightfully skewers the pretensions of the powerful. Addressing the House of Representatives on the bicentennial of the Continental Congress, he warns against the dangers of sentimentalizing history and wryly notes that “practically every man who signed the Declaration of Independence is at this moment being measured for a halo or, at worst a T-shirt.” At the Royal College of Surgeons in London, he compares his listeners to armed robbers and to the disreputable half of that infamous duo Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. “If I could be benevolent dictator of the United States for a year,” he informs the National Trust for Historic Preservation, “I should provide several million jobs for the wrecking industry.”
No one played the devil’s advocate with as much grace and good humor as did Alistair Cooke. The Patient Has the Floor is an eminently quotable testament to his extraordinary talents as a journalist, scholar, and public speaker.