Mark Helprin is certainly one of the best writers still at work. Although everything he writes is interesting and thoughtful, I still think his best is A Soldier of the Great War. This is a good interview with him. Note this exchange on beauty:
DT: Why are you so obsessed with beauty?
MH: Because it’s beautiful.
DT: [laughs] This is something I’ve gotten from all your work, over and over again.
MH: That’s an interesting question. See, that’s one of the questions that I’ve never, never had put to me. So I’ll have to think about that for a second. I suppose it’s the inverse of why I am repelled by ugliness. One is attracted to beauty. Beauty is the coordination of things, in such a way, that it is what attracts you. It’s almost self-defining. I know at a personal level, I have always been interested in it, and I have always sought it out, and was comforted by it, because it was comforting. I think in one of my books I say it’s a promise that there is a purpose in life, because if things can be arranged, coordinated in a way that made you react in that fashion, then perhaps it means that everything has a purpose in the end.