Steinbeck’s Dust Bowl Gnomes

Only a few bylines compel me to set aside my so-called work and read what’s printed beneath them immediately, rather than during some well-intentioned “later” that rarely arrives.

One such writer is Charlotte Allen, a popularizer and debunker in the Carl Sagan/Isaac Asimov mold, but whose field is the humanities (and their faddish mythologies) rather than science.

For instance, her instant-classic January 2001 essay in The Atlantic, “The Scholars and the Goddess,” proved beyond argument that then-trendy alt-religion Wicca was not, as advertised, an ancient, proto-feminist pagan belief system but had in fact been cooked up in the 1950s by an autodidact English civil servant, inconveniently male, one of those flaky, “garden shed,” trainspotting types that sprout so well in British soil.