From the time when, as a teenage reporter in New Mexico, he met the ill-fated poet Vachel Lindsay, to the final illness of his friend Igor Stravinsky, Paul Horgan has combined a sharp reportorial eye with an unjudgmental sense of the defects of virtues in the great. He writes of a luncheon of literary “haves” with the temporarily “have-not” Somerset Maugham in Manhattan in 1940. Having abandoned his lush villa in the south of France barely ahead of Hitler’s troops, Maugham arrives in New York with three dollars in his pocket, fresh memories of three weeks on an overloaded collier from Cannes to Liverpool, and a “polite reticence that made all attempts at conversation seem false and diffuse.”

Twenty-five years later, as director of Wesleyan University’s Center for Advanced Studies, Horgan had to accommodate to another sort of rudeness—Edmund Wilson’s heavy drinking and volatile responses, which kept him distant from all the other distinguished Fellows except Jean Stafford, who shared his ironic pessimism, antic humor, and unrelenting perversity.

Author of a dozen novels and twenty volumes of nonfiction, Horgan is much more admiring of the non-writers in his gallery: Alice Roosevelt Longworth, who did remarkable facial imitations of her cousin Eleanor Roosevelt for anyone who would watch and who, for seven decades, lent “special character” to the nation’s capital; his fellow cadet in military school, World War II combat...

(The entire section is 422 words.)