Peer Review: Arms and the Pan

Peer Review: Arms and the Pan

One critic writes:

[he] seems to treat his readers as horses at a certain stage of their decline are treated by experienced drivers, who keep them going from fear that if they let them stop or slacken they will be unable to get up their pace again. He never unbends his bow. But a table-land may be as flat, and even wearisome, as a plain; and the ornaments in [his] Aeneid frequently are not, and indeed cannot be, more ornamental than the passages which they purport to embellish.

This would seem to bode poorly for Robert Fagles, the latest person to undertake a full-scale translation of the Aeneid. 

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A tiny and swattable mind

A tiny and swattable mind

In Thornton Wilder’s powerful and subversive masterpiece Our Town, Mrs. Gibbs of provincial little Grover’s Corners holds forth on the wider world: “It seems to me,” she says, “once in your life, before you die, you ought to see a country where they don‘t speak any English and they don‘t even want to.” The line is delivered with just the slightest undertone of incredulity, of disbelief that such a place could really exist. 

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Absent Friends: It wasn't what he wanted

Absent Friends: It wasn't what he wanted

As Charles Homer Haskins pointed out in his humbly durable masterpiece The Renaissance of the 12th Century, the Dark Ages weren’t dark at all. Fiercely cold most of the time (due to a bout of climate change), but not dark in the sense of shuttered. Beknighted, but not benighted.

The great scholar John Addington Symonds (whose absence from bookstore shelves bloody well qualifies him for honoring here in Absent Friends, somewhere down the line) put it very prettily when he observed that any age without Michelangelo, Leonardo, and Raphael must necessarily seem dark. The ostentatious showboating of the Italian Renaissance is the problem in a nutshell when it comes to thinking about the innocent ages that come before.

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Shall We in That Great Night Rejoice?

Shall We in That Great Night Rejoice?

‘But hush, for I have lost the theme’…

A party of young people takes advantage of a beautiful blue-sky spring afternoon to have a picnic. The men are all trim and waistcoated, the women wear their hair in shapely turrets, with long white gloves on their hands. Baskets of fruit, an ice-bucket filled with bottles of sweet wine, and platters of coldcuts weight the picnic blanket. The air is clear and the nearby trees are gently swaying. The talk is quicksilver, invigorating.

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Book Review: Abundance

Book Review: Abundance

Jeter Naslund, a great big historical novel about Marie Antoinette.

Naslund has a pretty good track record with me. Not only did she write Ahab’s Wife, which has its moments, very distinctly has its moments (although its version of Ahab is woefully anemic), but she wrote Sherlock in Love, which is a very good Sherlock Holmes pastiche novel (trust me, I’ve read ’em all, and good ones are hard to come by).

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Book Review: Blood and Ink

Book Review: Blood and Ink

On May 20th, 1593, incendiary playwright Christopher Marlowe came before Queen Elizabeth I’s Privy Council to answer pointed questions about certain rumored opinions of his regarding the Protestant church and the Christian faith. The meeting’s conclusion was ambiguous: Marlowe walked out a free man (instead of being handed over to torturers, as happened to his flat mate and friend, Thomas Kyd, under identical circumstances), but he was ordered to keep himself instantly available to the Council—almost certainly a warning that further charges were pending. Ten days later, Marlowe was killed in a tavern in Deptford. The man who killed him received a royal pardon, and Marlowe was buried in an unmarked grave.

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Book Review: Marching with Caesar: Conquest of Gaul

Book Review: Marching with Caesar: Conquest of Gaul

In R. W. Peake’s long, dense, utterly absorbing book Marching with Caesar: Conquest of Gaul, readers follow the story of Titus Pullus, who joined Julius Caesar’s legendary 10th Legion as a young man seeking to shed his bitter home life for the glory and adventure of the Legions.

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Book Review: The Way Through Doors

Book Review: The Way Through Doors

Once upon a time, there was only one way to write a novel. You thought up your setting, then you peopled it with characters, and you decided what you wanted to happen to all of them. The endeavor was usually completely solitary, and when it was all over, you had a novel.

Only comparatively recently in the novel’s long history did an alternative to this process present itself. Sometime in the mid 20th century a few writers began abandoning the old method; they began disdaining plot, not caring if their characters were consistent or what happened to them, and complaining about the strictures of tradition.

And so, Jesse Ball.

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Still A Monster

Still A Monster

A. David Moody recently completed his magisterial three-volume biography of Ezra Pound, and after roughly 2000 pages, it’s perhaps understandable that Stockholm syndrome might be playing a part in his judgments. It’s the most charitable explanation for the sheer persistent drumbeat of exculpatory lies he tells about his subject all throughout the 600 pages of Ezra Pound: Poet — Volume III: The Tragic Years 1939-1972.

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Book Review: The Faith of Christopher Hitchens

Book Review: The Faith of Christopher Hitchens

Larry Alex Taunton, the Founder and Executive Director of the Christian advocacy group Fixed Point Foundation, was a friend and debating opponent of famed atheist Christopher Hitchens, who died of throat cancer in 2011. Hitchens’ book god Is Not Great was a huge bestseller from the instant of its appearance, its serial condemnation of all organized religion capitalizing on the wave of “New Atheism” then sweeping the United States. The book solidified Hitchens’ status as a star of the lecture circuit, and when he embarked on what he unctuously referred to as his “little book tour,” he debated one religious apologist after another, usually using showmanship and bombast to mop the floor with opponents who’d mistakenly shown up in order to debate religion.

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Book Review: The End of Karma

Book Review: The End of Karma

Journalist Somini Sengupta’s nonfiction debut, The End of Karma: Hope and Fury Among India’s Young, starts off on a deceptively mild note, with a glimpse of her childhood in Calcutta (a “steamy metropolis of Victoria and jazz”), but it quickly hurtles into the full gear of both reportage and prose. This is a raw, unposed snapshot of the world’s largest democracy.

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Book Review: Karl Doenitz and the Last Days of the Third Reich

Book Review: Karl Doenitz and the Last Days of the Third Reich

When Grand Admiral Karl Doenitz became Nazi Germany’s Head of State on April 30, 1945, named by Hitler in his will as his successor, many of his fellow Germans and most of his Allied enemies would have asked the same simple question Barry Turner asks in his even-handed and understated new book, Karl Doenitz and the Last Days of the Third Reich.

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Proud boy: Henry VIII’s Last Victim: The Life and Times of Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey

Proud boy: Henry VIII’s Last Victim: The Life and Times of Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey

Biographers and armchair physicians for centuries have clambered over the wreckage of Henry VIII’s body and sought to know the cause of it. In his final years, the King had grown so fat he could scarcely move himself – he had to be trundled around his various residences by a series of winches and pulleys, aided by the heaving of many courtiers. Partly this was due to unchecked gluttony and lifelong carousing

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What wickedness is here, Hooper? Edward VI: The Lost King of England by Chris Skidmore

What wickedness is here, Hooper? Edward VI: The Lost King of England by Chris Skidmore

Edward VI, the only legitimate male heir of Henry VIII, provoked awe at an early age. The Venetian ambassador in later life had no doubt of it: the greatest of all English monarchs died before he could become so.

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When you see me, you know me: Henry VIII: Court, Church, and Conflict by David Loades

When you see me, you know me: Henry VIII: Court, Church, and Conflict by David Loades

More than any other British monarch, he tends to make his biographers hate him. The ones who can resist must either be pitied for their blindness or cherished for their judgement.

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