The Oxford Book of Essays (Oxford Books of Verse)
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on February 10, 2000
Gross was faced with a tough task when asked to edit this volume: how to cram the history of a form that is so flexible, and so widely used, into a compact volume? Essays have been selected from the seventeenth century on, and Gross has included writers from the USA as well as Britain. Almost his only concession has been the exclusion of any writer born after WW2. Plagued by so much choice, he has done a great job. Of course, there are omissions. Several writers from 'The New Yorker' have their say, but there was no room for its two best essayists, A. J. Liebling and Joseph Mitchell. And the abscence of Kenneth Tynan is lamentable: his essay on the folly of the Lord Chamberlin, the Censor of Pays in Britain, is far better than that of Joseph Conrad, a brilliant novelist but an undistiunguished essayist, which is included here. But everyone will find a few favourites missing in any book of this kind. In fact, Gross has sometimes tried to be too representative, to include too many discrete essays, with the result that he seems to have plumped for very short pieces. Perhaps half a dozen writers seem to have been included simply because they are or were great writers, and not because they wrote great essays. Others are represented by inferior pieces, largely for reasons of space -- space often taken up by lesser writers. E.B. White, for instance, gets just over two pages for a pretty run-of-the-mill essay, where he would be better served by 'Death of a Pig' or 'Farewell, my lovely!', both of which are far better than, say, anything by Joseph Epstein. And John Updike's 'The Bankrupt Man' hardly gives an idea of what he's capable of. But these are minor quibbles. Anyone who enjoys reading essays will find countless hours of enjoyment in this book: essays by Samuel Johnson, Walter Bagehot, G. K. Chesterton, Max Beerbohm, John Jay Chapman, and many others, are classics that repay many re-readings.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on February 10, 2000
Gross was faced with a tough task when asked to edit this volume: how to cram the history of a form that is so flexible, and so widely used, into a compact volume? Essays have been selected from the seventeenth century on, and Gross has included writers from the USA as well as Britain. Almost his only concession has been the exclusion of any writer born after WW2. Plagued by so much choice, he has done a great job. Of course, there are omissions. Several writers from 'The New Yorker' have their say, but there was no room for its two best essayists, A. J. Liebling and Joseph Mitchell. And the abscence of Kenneth Tynan is lamentable: his essay on the folly of the Lord Chamberlin, the Censor of Plays in Britain, is far better than that of Joseph Conrad, a brilliant novelist but an undistiunguished essayist, which is included here. But everyone will find a few favourites missing in any book of this kind. In fact, Gross has sometimes tried to be too representative, to include too many discrete essays, with the result that he seems to have plumped for very short pieces. Perhaps half a dozen writers seem to have been included simply because they are or were great writers, and not because they wrote great essays. Others are represented by inferior pieces, largely for reasons of space -- space often taken up by lesser writers. E.B. White, for instance, gets just over two pages for a pretty run-of-the-mill essay, where he would be better served by 'Death of a Pig' or 'Farewell, my lovely!', both of which are far better than, say, anything by Joseph Epstein. And John Updike's 'The Bankrupt Man' hardly gives an idea of what he's capable of. But these are minor quibbles. Anyone who enjoys reading essays will find countless hours of enjoyment in this book: essays by Samuel Johnson, Walter Bagehot, G. K. Chesterton, Max Beerbohm, John Jay Chapman, and many others, are classics that repay many re-readings.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
The range of these 140 inclusions by 120 authors is considerable, but the quality varies. Many precede the 19th century, so as a representation of the duration of this form, this is a useful compilation. John Gross confesses in his brief preface how he tried to keep this to complete selections, but the length of this format, especially for earlier writers, demanded some cutting. This editorial constraint also appears to have taken its toll on more recent essays, for many here are short, and one feels the potential of a particular essayist is not shown best by the essay chosen here.

That being said, a few hours browsing these contents reveals entertainment and instruction. William James' accurate fear of "The Ph.D. Octopus" in 1903 taking over higher education, Mark Twain's caustic challenge to divine providence in "Thoughts of God," Robert Graves' uneven and curiously assembled "The Case for Xanthippe," George Orwell's measured judgement as "Reflections on Gandhi," and H.L. Mencken's takedown of a Pennsylvania steel town in "The Libido for the Ugly" all kept my attention. There is a tilt against the mercies of the Almighty which can be discerned, but this appears within the context of modern critiques of God, if in the background. As some compensation, G.K. Chesterton gets two essays and Hilaire Belloc one, although none of these are on religion. Jeremy Taylor weighs in on God's charity, James Froude on Christianity, and Charles Dickens on the sad state of churches in the City of London, too, so any claims that these contents are biased against Christianity can be balanced accordingly.

Entries such as "Bad Poets" by Randall Jarrell, Jacques Barzun on English vs. German and French, and Maurice Richardson on pen nibs, indicative of the variety in this anthology, seem too brief to matter much. A musty air permeates much of this volume, and more context on each author and the time the essay was written could have enlightened readers likely to be unfamiliar with many of the earlier writers. This is all rather Anglocentric, and as Gross is a literary historian specializing on the early modern period of British literature, this may be a natural bias. More Americans pop up later on, but one wonders if more international authors might have survived translation and merited inclusion. But ending this 1991 compilation with the Australian poet Clive James' review of Judith Krantz' "Princess Daisy" is a sly and surprising delight, easily one of the best in this collection.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on September 18, 2013
The Oxford Book of Essays. John Gross. 1992. 680pp.

The reason
which I esteem this book
is these essays are asking us
"What is the Human?" and "What is the Truth?".

No need of this book to the persons
who reject or loathe these questions.

I hope the publication of this book
would be continued longer.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on August 5, 2013
I was very pleased with my purchase. The book is in very good condition and arrived very promptly. This compilation of essays from some of well-known and well loved essayists, offers rich historical perspectives, outstanding writing, and thought provoking ideas.I have no regrets in purchasing this book. I was also very pleased with the condition and the time period in which I received it.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on January 27, 2012
A very idiosyncratic collection of little-known essays by some major writers and some unknowns. Almost all of them are by 19C English writers; very few are interesting in and of themselves. No introduction, no writer bios, no notes of any kind.
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on July 27, 2014
Brilliant. All contributions knew how to write good and above all else communicate an awakening in those that choose to read these musings..
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0 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on April 10, 2014
Not what I expected. A bit disappointed as I was actually looking for another John Gross book but due to title confusion I bought this one
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0 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on March 8, 2012
I needed this book for my English class, and it was just as expected. A great variety of essays from many authors.
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7 of 27 people found the following review helpful
on March 18, 2009
These essays are a collection of a few well known and loved pieces and too many obscure, poorly written and even more poorly organized essays. There is an obvious ideological bias - the editor has selected several essays that attack historical Christianity and to do so, he has inserted essays which are so involved and convoluted in their arguments that they are almost laughable. Style, flow of words and ideas, rhetoric, invective and diction have taken a holiday and been replaced by a callous mediocrity. Stay away! There are several other collections of essays far better than this one. And you don't have to choose one which has a pro-Christian bias either.
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