Discussed and debated, revered and reviled, Bloom's tome reinvigorates and re-examines Western Literature, arguing against the politicization of reading. His erudite passion will encourage you to hurry and finish his book so you can pick up Shakespeare, Austen and Dickens once again to rediscover their original magic. In addition, his appendix listing of the "future" canon - the books today that will be timeless tomorrow - is sure to be the template for future debate.
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A review of 200 or 300 words cannot do justice to a book like this: it is the summation of a great critic's most fundamental beliefs--something like a dying Bernstein's last performance of Mahler's ninth, though in this case a lot less sad. In fact, this book of essays represents Bloom at his most celebratory, and there's a wonderful, vigorous energy about it. Why, one wonders, reading it, do we bother reading anybody but
Shakespeare, Dante, or Chaucer? The argument for Shakespeare is particularly compelling. Bloom believes that Shakespeare is
the canon: that he defines for the Western world the standards by which we judge all literature. And more: he defines for us what we are ourselves, what we understand of human nature. This argument, offered with Bloom's customary flare for the controversial, is akin to the remark that all philosophy is a footnote to Plato, and like it, is probably in large measure true. Thus, modern psychology doesn't add very much to what people could have already learned from reading Shakespeare because Shakespeare defines the limits of what we know: we can't get beyond or outside him. Certainly, experience teaches that Bloom is right; indeed, the evolution of human consciousness seems to have taken one of its periodic jolts forward about the time of Shakespeare, and he above all seems to have captured the entire scope of what was new. As Bloom points out, Shakespeare is universally adored, in all languages, and perhaps it is for this reason. The essays on Dante and Chaucer are almost equally powerful, though in a sense less awesome. And the brief remarks about the powerful movements of resentment trying to push apart these great pillars of the Western canon, though perspicacious, are melancholy and incidental. Get this book for the great essays on Shakespeare. For lovers of literature, probably nothing more powerful or in an odd way more religious will be written this year. Stuart Whitwell