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The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table (Notable American Authors) Hardcover – July, 1992

ISBN-13: 978-0781231565 ISBN-10: 0781231566

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Hardcover, July, 1992
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--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • Series: Notable American Authors
  • Hardcover
  • Publisher: Reprint Services Corp (July 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0781231566
  • ISBN-13: 978-0781231565
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 5.8 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #12,653,652 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

Originally published in 1858, The Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table is a series of personal essays ostensibly recounting the boarding-house breakfast-table conversation of ³the Autocrat² and his table-mates ‹ the Professor, the Landlady, the Schoolmistress, the Divinity Student, and so on. The book is both a timeless depiction of a witty, urbane, and genial critical intelligence, and a vivid record of 19th-century America in general, and Boston intellectual circles in particular. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
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35 of 35 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 27, 2002
Format: Paperback
The Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table is a demonstration of New England civility in the 1850s. I believe it went through more than 50 editions by the end of the nineteenth century, so it must have been very widely read at one time. The book is packed with amazing observations. Holmes takes the time to wonder why the sense of smell is the quickest path to memory. He rails against puns in a way that is better than punning. He points out human flaws and praises examples of good living. Trees come alive, through prosaic description and poetic flights. Would you like to go back to the 1850s and have a conversation with a Boston intellectual? Here's your chance. There are many old copies of this book sitting around, but it's nice that it's come back into print (again).... (it's also a quiet love story, by the way)
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33 of 39 people found the following review helpful By Panopticonman on May 19, 2002
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Two oral practices flourished in antebellum America: the lecture (or sermon) and the conversation. Lectures, such as Emerson's "The American Scholar" and sermons, such as the abolitionist sermons of Henry Ward Beecher, are well-known examples of this era. But it was also known as the Golden Age of Conversation, and its greatest practitioner was generally agreed to be Oliver Wendell Holmes, Senior.
Holmes was considered an important American writer until the 1920s when he was excised from the American canon by the modernists. They depicted him as willfully provincial, and elitist. What those critics failed to understand was that the Autocrat is also a comic pose, and that Holmes is making sport of everyone, including elitists. Holmes' democratic view of conversation as an open, free-wheeling discourse where anyone could join the Autocrat at his table, as long as they enlivened the conversation, ran counter to the views of his more elitist friends in Boston's Saturday Club in Boston. Holmes loved to talk, and his love for talk made him a democrat, or perhaps a true republican.
His Autocrat is a many sided character: stern and foolish, admonitory and celebratory, a polymorph who will don any temporaty mask necessary to keep the conversation alive. Holmes' playful metaphorical imagination is also a revelation. His gift for translating complex ideas into homey metaphors, aphorisms, and similes is nothing short of miraculous. In the words of another seriously comic American whom I'm sure Holmes would have delighted in, the Autocrat "floats like a butterfly, stings like a bee."
The Autocrat of the Breakfast table begins "in media res," in the middle of a conversation, with the Autocrat attempting to set the rules for conversation at his table.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 10, 2001
Format: Hardcover
The Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table is a demonstration of New England civility in the 1850s. I believe it went through more than 50 editions by the end of the nineteenth century, so it must have been very widely read at one time. The book is packed with amazing observations. Holmes takes the time to wonder why the sense of smell is the quickest path to memory. He rails against puns in a way that is better than punning. He points out human flaws and praises examples of good living. Trees come alive, through prosaic description and poetic flights. Would you like to go back to the 1850s and have a conversation with a Boston intellectual? Here's your chance. There are many old copies of this book sitting around, but it would be nice if it came back into print.... (it's also a quiet love story, by the way)
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By jdh122 on October 28, 2010
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This is a delightful little work. Comprising a series of articles published in the Atlantic Monthly in the 1850s, The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table is a rambling but never disjointed first-person narrative of "conversations" between the narrator (the "Autocrat" from the title) and his fellow boarders in a Boston boarding house. I use the term "conversations" because the work is primarily monological, with the other boarders chiming in only infrequently to interrupt the Autocrat's musings and observations.

The Autocrat is learned and urbane. He speaks intelligently on a diverse array of topics, including the rules governing the art of conversation (including the "pun-question", which he dismisses as "verbicide"), horse racing, writing, deja vu, the superior ability of the olfactory sense in recalling old memories, old age or "senectitude", laughter, poetry, knowledge, the benefits of rowing, boxing, hats, trees and other topics. Interspersed throughout the work are collections of verse as well.

While not a page-turner, I found myself reasonably engaged throughout the work with two exceptions: (1) there are a couple of passages in French (I have no French), one of which is fairly long and (2) the budding and finally flowering romance at the end of the work I found to be rather dull reading and somewhat superfluous, given the nature of the work.

While reading this book I felt as though I had escaped from my overly-structured, hectic existence - and the collection of (often vulgar) characters that pass uninvited across the stage of my life - to become a part of the much simpler yet richer world of the Autocrat. Time slowed down. Reflection and conversation were the order of the day. I realized with regret that the deliberate reflection that nourishes a flow of ideas, and from which yet new ideas oft emerge, had at some point been demoted in my own life to the status of a luxury.
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