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Critical Times: The History of the Times Literary Supplement Hardcover – November 1, 2001

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 584 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins UK; 1St Edition edition (November 1, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007114494
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007114498
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.4 x 2.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,882,271 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Entering its centennial year, the Times Literary Supplement, that British bastion of highbrow book culture, has a circulation of just 35,000. So it should not surprise anyone if a 600-page, painstakingly thorough history of the supplement generates sales somewhat more meager than that. This is something of a shame, for despite its wrist-cracking bulk and geological pace, this volume is stylishly written, affectionate and more entertaining than it has any right to be. May, a TLS contributor and longtime Times man, closely chronicles the supplement's tenuous start (it was originally issued to cover book reviews squeezed out of the regular Times by parliamentary reports) and frequent financial crises the TLS would inevitably be rescued in the nick of time by one high-minded millionaire or another. May faithfully traces the rise of such famous contributors as Virginia Woolf and T.S. Eliot, freed by anonymity (there were no bylines in those days) to write searingly vivid critiques. (Of one unlucky title Woolf wrote, "You draw from it that sense of instruction in unimportant matters which you get by looking from the train window at a flat stretch of countryside.") May is equally good following the uncertain early fate of works destined for immortality, like The Waste Land and Ulysses. The correspondence of hawk-eyed TLS subscribers, pouncing on errors in translations of Catullus, will delight those with a taste for the absurd. It is hard to imagine any but the most stout-hearted TLS reader undertaking this long journey from cover to cover, but American literary scholars will likely treasure this heroic record of a periodical that took the life of the mind more seriously than most. Illus.

Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Novelist and essayist May served only briefly on the staff of the Times Literary Supplement (TLS), but his tenure on the British literary scene qualifies him amply for the task of chronicling the supplement's first century. One can easily imagine many versions of this history, with each person associated with the TLS focusing, like the blind men describing the elephant, on particular events or personalities. May has done an admirable job of conveying the whole elephant, as it were, while enlivening the rigorously researched text with insightful character sketches, anecdotes, and many excerpts from reviews (e.g., Andrew Lang's dismissal of the Baskerville hound as "only a big dog on whom taxes are paid" and an assessment of The Wind in the Willows that "as a contribution to natural history the work is negligible"). Although the book will appeal mainly to scholars, May's crisp style makes it a pleasure to read. Highly recommended for academic and large public libraries. Susan M. Colowick, North Olympic Lib. Syst., Port Angeles, WA
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Judith C. Kinney on August 12, 2002
Format: Hardcover
I love books about books, and this is a book that is about a newspaper that is about books. Derwent May has written a 550-page tome (not including index and bibliography) tracing the 100-year history of the Times (of London) Literary Supplement. I once had a trial subscription to the TLS and enjoyed reading it but couldn't afford the subscription price. The best comparable thing we have in the U.S. is the New York Review of Books. (The NYRB, though it's less expensive, gives you only 20 issues a year while the TLS gives you 52.) The London Review of Books is not a good substitute: Fewer than half its pages are devoted to actual book reviews, and this periodical has the annoying habit of not following any rules for breaking words at the ends of lines. The New York Times Book Review is unsatisfactory because the reviews are too short. The New Republic is a good read if you want some politics and current events along with your book reviews. is a great place to get book reviews if you want the opinions of John and Mary Doe. But I digress.
May divides his book into convenient time periods. For each time period, he first discusses the people who were employed by the TLS, the format and format changes of the TLS during the period, and then the reviewers and important books reviewed. This last is the best part of each chapter, although the other parts are also interesting.
Two sections of photos show TLS personnel and reviewers and four photos of the TLS itself as its format changed over the years. I would have liked to see more photos of the paper itself.
The index could have been expanded to include the titles of books reviewed. One can't look up a favorite book to see if it was reviewed (and what was said about it) in the TLS.
On the whole, CRITICAL TIMES is a thoroughly enjoyable read.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Scott Lahti on September 30, 2003
Format: Hardcover
(Part II of II of review) With the accession after the Second World War of editor Alan Pryce-Jones, a social hummingbird of wide artistic interests and cosmopolitan friendships, the TLS began a broadening of its Continental and American exposure which continues to this day (Pryce-Jones pioneered in bringing to light, in English and German at once, the major work of the Austrian novelist Robert Musil, The Man Without Qualities). The unceasing debates in its pages engaged a now-venerated mid-century generation of historians (A.J.P. Taylor, Hugh Trevor-Roper), philosophers (Isaiah Berlin, Stuart Hampshire), critics (William Empson, F.R. Leavis), novelists (Iris Murdoch, Kingsley Amis), and poets (Philip Larkin, Dylan Thomas), whose struggles to reshape their respective domains in the shadow of a European landscape fractured in the aftermath of the Nazi and Stalinist catastrophes, and a Britain shrunken in colonial power and wealth alike in the wake of the "American century" of the Cold War era, traced the contours of English intellectual life for decades to come. The most widely-remarked blind spot in the paper's coverage of political books, its regular assignment of Russian studies to the Cambridge don E.H. Carr, a historical determinist and "wave-of-the-future" cheerleader for the mammoth collectivising feats of Stalinist Russia, never lacked for opposition on the letters page, while dissenting Russianists along the periphery helped sustain its both-sides-now balance.Read more ›
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Scott Lahti on September 26, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Like the classic pre-First World War Eleventh Edition of The Encyclopaedia Britannica, to which it is in spirit a weekly high-journalistic descendant, The Times Literary Supplement of London is among those prime artifacts of the British Empire of the mind which, if they did not exist, we would find it necessary to invent. The TLS, as it is known to its small but influential audience - its circulation has seldom risen above 40,000 - throughout the Anglophone realm, has, thanks to a rigorously scholarly editorial and advertising policy we might label "highest-common-denominator", combined with a topical range approaching each week almost that of the old Britannica itself, secured a reputation over its first hundred years as the most authoritative general book review in English, a sort of Recording Angel of contemporary intellectual life.
As vital and relevant as ever on its hundredth anniversary, the paper that has been called "the mailbox of the British intelligentsia" and "the booklover's journal of record" has authorised former staffer and veteran English literary editor Derwent May to play Ancient Mariner among its editorial archives, and in Critical Times: The History of the Times Literary Supplement, he has done the centenarian weekly proud, with a panoramic and lucidly-written remembrance of the central literary, intellectual and ideological events of the century past, as seen through the eyes of writers and critics whose work was commissioned from, and in turn broadcast from, the city which was until quite recently the confident pivot of a global empire whose scholars, no less than its consuls, had blanketed the globe.
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