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Why Homer Matters Hardcover – November 18, 2014

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Editorial Reviews


Highly accessible…Nicolson's amateurism (in the best, etymological, sense of the word: from the Latin amare, "to love") and globe-trotting passion for his subject is contagious…bringing the heroic age into our own. (New York Times Book Review)

Complex, personal and profound…a brash and brave piece of writing… [Nicolson's] book, filled with the swords and spears that inflict the carnage of the 'Iliad,' can change the way we see ours. (Wall Street Journal)

Stirring… Nicolson eloquently sums up what we still look for in Homer: 'wisdom, his fearless encounter with the dreadful, his love of love and hatred of death, the sheer scale of his embrace, his energy and brightness, his resistance to nostalgia.' (Washington Post)

If I have a serious complaint about this book, it's that it threatens to be better than Homer -- and I say this as a qualified classicist, who is supposed to be extensively trained for snottiness toward an amateur enthusiast like Nicolson. Against the howl that must be rising from the academy at my judgment, I'm standing my ground. (National Review)

Adam Nicolson's Why Homer Matters is awonderfully sensitive and fascinating meditation on Homer, sailing, the meaning of life, and the power of poetry. The author's erudition is dazzling and discreet. (Louis Begley, author of Memories of a Marriage and About Schmidt)

There is no better explicator of life, of art, and the process by which we experience both than Adam Nicolson. In Why Homer Matters, he is at his eloquent and rapturous best.Through the prism of this great poet, Nicolson has crafted a kind of metaphysical guidebook on how to lead a meaningful life in in a world of terrifying and wondrous change. (Nathaniel Philbrick, author of In the Heart of the Sea and Bunker Hill)

Seldom have I been so moved, inspired, informed and delighted as by Adam Nicolson's elegant explanation of why Homer--so long forgotten in the school-time haze--is so vitally important as a lifetime vade mecum. The author must be one of the last true polymaths standing: his writings--this new book above all--give pleasure beyond compare. (Simon Winchester, author of The Professor and the Madman and The Men Who United the States)

[A] gracefully written and deeply informed book…Nicolson's spirited exploration illuminates our own indelible past. (Kirkus, starred review)

In this passionate, deeply personal book, Nicolson explains why Homer matters--to him, to you, to the world--in a text full of twists, turns, and surprises. (Publishers Weekly)

[A] sprawling, lyrical, and frequently intimate exploration of the epic poet…. In the end, it is Nicolson's passion for his subject that animates this selection and elevates textual explication into a paean. (Booklist)

Vigorous and visceral…The results are at once moving and enlightening. (Financial Times)

Adam Nicolson's books are like beautiful shells encountered in the sand: delicate, rare and wonderful. [Why Homer Matters] is a moving personal musing on Homer--on what he has to say to us today about life and about ourselves. (Alexander McCall Smith, Daily Mail)

Erudite, far-ranging in time and space, and provocative ... This rich and adventurous book is Nicolson's own odyssey, a wide-eyed ramble around the ancient world and through the centuries ... Nicolson's enthusiasm [is] enriching and his examination of the character of the two epics acute and fascinating. (Allan Massie, Literary Review)

As gripping as a thriller and as delicately constructed as a sonnet … an astonishing tour de force that reveals Homer to be at once as ancient as papyrus and as modern as MTV … in dealing with the body-thudding side of epic Nicolson proves to be in his element … Not only does he have an inward understanding of how Homer's poetry works, his own prose also has the sharp glitter of a poet's eye (The Telegraph)

Nicolson's brilliant, passionate, world-wandering love letter to Homer … his close readings are wonderful and his heady romanticism is far more inspirational than any dry academic exegesis. If the only real test of any book about Homer is that it should make you want to go back to Homer, then [Why Homer Matters] passes that test in a blaze of glory (Sunday Times)

Nicolson has written the book that was waiting to be written … a superbly written account of the poems (The Times)

A joy to read (Evening Standard)

A hosanna to Homeric wandering and wanderlust … breathes new life into an ancient adventure (Observer)

A beautiful study: full of insight, generosity and unaffected passion. The writing is exhilarating. There is a wonderful sense of a community of readers of Homer handing on their insights through two millennia - of the dead talking to the living, of the taking up of a conversation that has never quieted (Guardian)

A thrillingly energized book that travels to the real-life locations of the action … at the molecular level, it transmits a whole worldview at once decipherable and dramatically strange … To read Homer is to be struck by what Nicolson calls 'time-vertigo' - and this book is one that holds your hand and encourages you to peer over the edge. It's a book about what it means (the present tense is correct here because the process is continuous) for Nicolson to encounter Homer as a reader: an experience of wonder digested and communicated in the completest and most generous possible way. To read it is to have a fat pair of Homeric jump-leads attached from Adam Nicolson's sparking and crackling faculties of appreciation to your own. (Spectator)

About the Author

Adam Nicolson's books include the New York Times bestseller God's Secretaries, Sea Room, Sissinghurst, and Seamanship. Among his honors are the Somerset Maugham Award, the W. H. Heinemann Prize, and the British Topography Prize; he lives on a farm in Sussex with his wife and their five grown children.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.; First Edition edition (November 18, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1627791795
  • ISBN-13: 978-1627791793
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.2 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (63 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #37,594 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

64 of 67 people found the following review helpful By Erik Peterson on December 17, 2014
Format: Hardcover
`Why Homer Matters' is a powerful book.

It is impolite, manly, cosmic, wild, enormous.

It is a three part dance of ancestral memory, the present moment, and the spoken word.

For those of you who aspire to some form of artistic greatness, in the manner of your Proto-Indo European ancestors collectively known as Homer - to become `the weaver of words' (the weaver of worlds), to master the elements - of creativity, poetic truth, and word magic - you really need to hear what Mr. Nicolson has to say about these matters in this book - if you dare.

Nicolson reads like an improved version of Robert Graves - less arcane, less eccentric, less egotistical, more credible, clearer in meaning, and with the benefit of more years of accumulated archeological and historical insight.

In other words, you are released from the need to keep fumbling through `The White Goddess' for inspiration. What you have been looking for in vain in there is all right here instead. Written with clarity. Lucidity. Intelligibility, and...

Magical Prowess.

Here is one excerpt from the book, having to do with Ocean, which should alleviate any doubts you may have about whether this work is meant for you:

`It is an experience all deep sea sailors will have had. You are out in a storm, the boat rolls and pitches, thirty degrees one way and then the other, the sea coming at you in a pattern you wish would end, the battering and shrieking of the wind unstoppable in your ear. Every surface is broken. The winds cannot leave the sea alone. What has already been plowed and folded is plowed and folded again. No structure in the sea remains whole.
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46 of 50 people found the following review helpful By Christopher Rowe on November 21, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
This fine book navigates between scholarly erudition and a personal encounter with the epics the way dapple-talented Odysseus made his way between Scylla and Charybdis—with undeniable success, but not without casualties. Nicolson's careful but confidently asserted claims about the dating and compositional history of the poems may spark debate among some readers, but they are ultimately not the point of this eloquent, tutelary invitation to Homer. The author's project is that of his subject, not to provide answers, but to "dramatize their reality." Recommended with enthusiasm.
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Never would I have imagined myself reading about Homer and his " wine dark", " unharvestable sea " while in Phuket, Thailand, sitting under a palm tree gazing over a lacquered Andaman Sea. During my biannual visits here, I usually immerse myself in “spirit of place” stories recounting island adventures such as those of Paul Gauguin or Captain Cook. But after reading Sarah Ruden’s review of Adam Nicolson's Why Homer Matters, I heeded her urging .“ First, everybody read this book" --- and so downloaded Why Homer Matters. Before long I had surrendered to the spell of the book and found myself mesmerized as I turned its digital pages on my IPad.

After a while, I began to wonder why the book seemed so compelling and then suddenly, with a vivid clarity, I knew the answer. Ten years ago tomorrow, on Boxing Day, December 26, 2004 , this seemingly benign Andaman sea turned wild and roiling as the now infamous tsunami swept away everything on this shore, almost taking away the life of my son, who was on his way to go fishing. The usually benign sea he loved, and thought he knew, had turned, on that day, into a monster which might have “soak’d his heart through.” On this Christmas day 2014, Why Homer Matters is the perfect present to welcome my son home from a five day fishing expedition on the same sea which he both loves and yet rightly fears. He has read Homer --yet even if he had not —this book is so engagingly written, so captivating that I am sure he, like me, would sail from chapter to chapter.

As I reflect on it, perhaps it is not so strange to be reading about Odysseus and his voyage here, in Phuket. This is hardly Calypso's Island, but its exotic, languid, and hypnotic atmosphere is redolent of much that would have lured Odysseus.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Foster J. Dickson on July 11, 2015
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If I had stopped reading "Why Homer Matters" after the first seven chapters, I would have given it five stars. The writing is excellent, the description and exposition are vivid, the subject matter is compelling, the details are solid, the conclusions are interesting. But two things happened in chapter eight: first, I began to feel like Nicolson's tangents and digressions were going way to far off course, even getting off topic -- andthat continued into chapters nine and beyond – and he also included this weird out-of-nowhere story where he got raped by a guy he thought was leading him back to his hotel. I was already getting disgruntled with the tangents, but after the rape story, he lost me. Trying to read subsequent chapters, I felt distracted by that disturbing turn and wondered how much longer he would ramble about the side-topics. In short, he lost me in the chapter eight. I did finish the book, and overall did enjoy Nicolson's style and content. But that shift in the middle pushed me quickly from a five-star review to a three-star review.
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