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The Great Melody: A Thematic Biography of Edmund Burke Reprint Edition

3.8 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0226616513
ISBN-10: 0226616517
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  • The Great Melody: A Thematic Biography of Edmund Burke
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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Conor Cruise O'Brien (1917-2008) was a leading Irish intellectual of his generation and had a distinguished career in public life as a diplomat, politician, government minister, writer, newspaper editor, critic, and scholar. He published numerous books in subjects such as history, biography, politics, and religion.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 768 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press; Reprint edition (March 20, 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226616517
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226616513
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.9 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #643,252 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
"The Great Melody" by Conor Cruise O'Brien is not your traditional biography; there is little here concerning Burke's personal and family life. Instead, the work concentrates on Burke's political career and thought and, specifically, how they relate to his Irish heritage. The result is a fascinating look into the mind and personality of a man who suffered from a conflict of emotions over his Irish heritage that included his father's conversion to Protestantism while his mother and wife remained Catholic. Burke himself was torn in different directions his entire life; loyalty to Britain and also his Irish ancestors and friends suffering under the Penal Laws, loyalty to the British constitution, but also a deep feeling for the need of justice for the oppressed people at home and abroad.
O'Bien's book takes an in-depth look at Burke's career in parliament and as a member of the Whig party through an extensive analysis of his letters, speeches, political relationships, and writings, specifically, as they relate to his struggle on behalf of the American colonists, the struggle of the Irish Catholics, the people of India suffering at the hands of the rapacious East India Co., and the French Revolution.
The work can be a little dry at times and tends to quote in an overly lengthy manner, but the immense erudition and scholarship and the insightful picture of Burke that emerges more than compensate for this. I do wish, however, that O'Brien had spent more time on "Reflections On The Revolution in France," but he feels that since it is so readily available to the reader there is no need. Finally we see an Edmund Burke as he really was and not the "old reactionary" that is so often depicted.
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Format: Paperback
An excellent biography, highly readable, a bold and ultimately persuasive thesis - that Burke was not only a major political thinker but that he shaped much of the late 18th century. From a fascinating introduction showing how modern scholars had successfully destroyed and obscured Burke's true legacy to its brilliant organizing principle (a line from Yeats), this is a great book. This book should be required reading for every senator, congressman, and presidential candidate - if only to improve the level of discourse by reading Burke's great speeches. Yeats' lines on Burke: "American colonies, Ireland, France, and India/ Harried, and Burke's great melody against it." O'Brien shows how much one great man can do against tyranny, and how little. The book falls short on two counts: one, inadequate bios of Rockingham, Fox, Portland, Pitt the Younger, and his relation to Sam Johnson and Joshua Reynolds. Two, Burke the man does not walk these pages as Johnson does Boswell's book. True, O'Brien has organized the book around Yeats' lines, but the domestic Burke, the friend of Johnson and Reynolds could have been amplified. These are minor faults. This biography is excellent in so many ways that it compares very favorably with Boswell's Johnson and indeed excels it on many fronts.
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Format: Paperback
Everyone knows Edmund Burke's most famous quote: "for evil to triumph, it is only necessary for good men to do nothing". As a former lecturer in political science, I was mainly familiar with Burke as the founder of Anglo-conservatism (infinitely more nuanced and modern than his equivalent in Franco-conservatism, the Count Joseph de Maistre). I had also read an early work, namely "An Enquiry into the nature of the Beautiful and the Sublime", which I thought a brilliant little jewel. But there's much more about Burke than that.
O'Brien, the great man of Irish diplomacy, shows in this extraordinary book that Burke, whom recently history has shown as a fawning servant to the political leaders of his time (Rockingham and Pitt), was at the heart of the great fight between George III's royal absolutism and the emerging English democracy. Burke was on the right side of virtually all the fights he picked. He advocated equality before the law for the Irish subjects of the king, first tolerance and then freedom for the American colonies, the end of the colonialist abuses of the East India company, and a quarantine on the infectious ideas of the French Revolution. The later one is still a contentious affair. Zhou En Lai famously opined that it was still too early (in the 1970s) to judge the French Revolution. Burke would have had none of that. As early as 1790, in the "benign" initial phase of the revolution, he foresaw the Terror, the execution of the Royal Family, the Consulate and the Empire, and the French banner covering all of the Europe, in the name of "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity".
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Format: Paperback
O'Brien does a masterful job of bringing to life a neglected and misunderstood politician and political theorist. Those whose knowledge of Burke is limited to "Reflections" are in for an awakening. By book's end the reader will feel much like I. Berlin (whose correspondence with CCOB is in the appendix) and recant previously held stereotypes of Burke as a reactionary. A thorough detailing of Burke's writings and speeches makes clear that he was far from the two dimensional figure derided in political theory seminars.
O'Brien makes old political controversies regarding Ireland, India, America and revolutionary France fresh and engaging. An initial puzzle of this book is O'Brien's passionate refutations of the Namierite view of Burke. Yet, Burke continues to be a bogeyman to the academic left for good reason. Burke hated tyranny in any form and virtually alone among his contemporaries recognized that recasting society in the name of an idea promised the worst form of tyranny. Devotees of the French Revolution detest Burke whose credentials as a champion of the oppressed in Ireland, India and America were beyond reproof.
O'Brien himself, however, was curiously un-Burkean during his political career as it related to the Cold War. Burke correctly recognized that the French Revolution was a proto-totalitarian movement. He saved his most withering scorn for his former allies who viewed the revolution as a net benefit for the French and the world. In contrast, O'Brien in his UN days urged that Ireland follow the "decent" countries such as Sweden and stay above the US-Soviet fray. One wishes that O'Brien, now in his eighties, would have come to grips with his past as a neutral in the struggle between freedom and the successors of the French Revolution.
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