The ‘’Best’ in 1974, according to two Americans, one of whom had been a child prodigy


The best Champagne

‘,…Short of the best—which some may find an extravagance at eight pounds—it doesn’t make sense to buy champagne. The five pound variety is rarely worth the price. Since competitive alternatives can be had for half as much. From France, the dry sparkling wines of Seyssel are often the equal of medium-priced champagne. California “ champagne” ( the long arm of the French labelling law does not reach across the Atlantic ) can also be quite decent; the best are Korbel Natural and Hans Kornell.

The best college at Oxford

Screen Shot 2020-12-12 at 12.06.52 PM‘Magdalen, both the most beautiful and the most intellectually diverse. Christ Church is an unreconstructed sanctuary of the worst in British snobbery; Balliol is like an American law school, full of politics and ambition. Magdalen has everything : class warfare on even terms, superb tutors, an immense spectrum of interests and tastes’.      Other colleges are available…

The best diet

‘The crashing bore of it all. Everyone knows what the best diet is…Lean meat, cottage cheese. Skim milk, an occasional slice of bread or a baked potato, fresh fruit and veggies; no skipping breakfast, apples and carrot sticks for snacks, plenty of leafy greens to prevent the inevitable…The only thing wrong with the diet—besides the fact that no one in his right mind would stick to it –is that calorie recommendations are too generous, even for the intended audience…

No matter what diet you try, the odds are it won’t work, or if it does work, it won’t for long. Sticking to the kind of diet that will turn your average fat person into a skinny one is a very painful experience. Most of the people who take it off and keep it off do so only after a heart attack, or high blood pressure diagnosis, or diabetes—in other words they are incredibly frightened…a more promising approach is figuring out how appetite works and controlling it with drugs… Plus ca change…

The best French cookbook.

‘…is Henri-Paul Pellaprat’s Great Book of French Cuisine. Pelaprat began his career in 1881 at the age of twelve as a pastry chef. He worked his way up to the great French restaurant kitchens, then reigned at the Cordon Bleu Cooking School in Paris until 1932. His compilation of 2,030 recipes ( so the current jacket copy claims; we didn’t count ) covers the field—from baked pigs’ feet with truffle sauce  ( p. 635) to croquembouche crowned with spun sugar ribbons ( p. 1028 ). Few of them are as easy as they read, but the 300 awesome photographs at least prove that somebody can do it.

What, no Elizabeth David ?

The best French restaurant.

…Fernand Point’s Restaurant de la Pyramide in Vienne revolutionized French cuisine. Point rejected the Sun King’s vision of luxury cooking in favour of a cuisine of restraint that emphasized the natural flavors of the raw materials…By Point’s death in 1955 one could more appropriately speak of his dominance of rather than his influence on French cooking. No less than five of the sixteen Michelin three-star restaurants are run by ex-Pyramide trainees…. La Pyramide is as good as ever it was. The menu has only recently begun to vary from the old days. Lunch or dinner in the modest dining room typically begins with fresh foie gras in a slice of brioche, then a tiny mouse of trout in a truffled sauce. The fish course might be the famous gratin de queues d’ecrivisses, or salmon in a white-wine sauce accented by the tartness of tomato. Next, perhaps a roasted duck with flesh still pink, or chicken from Bresse in a cream sauce edged with vinegar. After the cheese course comes an avalanche of desserts—raspberries with raspberry sauce; the ludicrously rich butter cream, chocolate, and hazelnut marjolaine cake; a peasant-like sticky pastry tasting faintly of orange; exquisite petits fours. The sherbet offered between rounds may be the most perfect of Pyramide creations—it simply explodes sour lemon but leaves the mouth unpuckered…La Pyramide is not only a great restaurant, it is one’s version of a great restaurant.

The best hope for a cure for cancer

The death sentence cancers are: ‘ some leukemias, liver, pancreas, gall-bladder. The ‘ best ‘ places to get them are: ‘ skin, lips, salivary glands’ ( 80% survival rates)…’Strikingly, people who have immune-deficiency diseases or have taken drugs to prevent the immunological rejection of organ transplants seem especially vulnerable to cancer as well as to standard microorganisms…cancer is largely a disease of old people, whose immune capacity is demonstrably failing…’  Sounds familiar 

The best hope for a pollution-free engine.

Detroit can, and probably reluctantly will, produce in the next ten years an automobile engine that generates almost no air pollution…Large steam turbines are the most efficient practical converters of heat to motion. However, adaptation to the automobile is difficult—the engine must warm up well in advance, and under any condition it will resist rapid acceleration. Steam turbine buses and trucks are on the way, but probably not cars…

No mention of electric cars…

These examples of ‘ the best ‘in 1974 are interesting in themselves, especially as they reflect American taste, but in 2020 it is one of the co-authors of this book who commands equal attention. If any of its American readers associated the name of Leonard Ross with anything it was probably as the Californian child prodigy, who in Spring 1957 at the tender age of eleven, won a total of $164,000 ( the equivalent in 2019 of $1,493,000 ) by successfully answering questions on the Stock Exchange in two famous TV game shows—a record-winning feat of memory that stood for two months.

 A year later, Ross again showed a coolness and a intellectual sophistication in front of the camera while being interviewed by one of America’s best known interrogators—challenging assumptions regarding gifted children like himself with a veteran broadcaster four times his age. Two years later he fulfilled his early academic promise by matriculating at Reed College, from where he transferred to UCLA. At 18 he entered Yale Law School, graduated at 20 and then migrated to the Yale School of Economics to study for a Ph.D. This is where his troubles began.

By all accounts, his studying regime was chaotic. Like many with a very high IQ, he found that focussing on a small area of research limited his natural inclination to investigate other, perhaps more absorbing intellectual interests. All who met him testified to his ‘ racing mind ‘ and ability to make connections between apparently disparate fields. The quality most likely to benefit a Ph D student is resolute determination rather than the mental agility displayed by Ross on so many occasions. He failed to write up his dissertation and was forced to leave Yale.

Luckily, Ross’s reputation as a prodigy went before him and he soon found himself working successively for various leading lights in the Democratic party, including Jerry Brown, the Governor of California and President Jimmy Carter. He also taught at various universities and co-authored books, notably with the economist Peter Passell, who complained that Ross rarely completed projects. Others testified that he was an ‘ ideas man ‘ rather than a slogger.

In time, it became obvious to all his friends and associates that Ross’s once magnificent intellect was rapidly deteriorating. His memory collapsed. He sought expensive ‘ cures ‘ , including dangerous brain surgery, to no avail. Finally, he was found dead in a swimming pool. The verdict was probable suicide, though proof was lacking. He was just 39 years old. [R M. Healey]



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