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John Milton: A Hero of Our Time Hardcover – March 16, 2010
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*Starred Review* Popular biographies commemorating Milton’s four-hundredth birthday have been scarce, but Hawkes makes up for that paucity and then some in a splendid argument that Milton was so prophetic of modern political and religious predicaments that he should be regarded as our contemporary. Think of Milton as a lifelong iconoclast, Hawkes says, who fought psychological idolatry unceasingly, questioning institutional routines, habitual obedience, hierarchy, and all authority short of God. He suffered for his active intransigence. He lost his sight, alienated his daughters, and endured repeated denunciation. Hawkes pursues the theme of iconoclasm throughout Milton’s writing, showing how it accounts for his advocacy of divorce and complete freedom of speech and the press, and cogently refuting the interpretive canard that Satan is the hero of Paradise Lost. Milton understood the difference between reality and representation, not least because his father and he were professional usurers, dealing in that foremost abstract representer, money, but knowing that only God deserves worship. In an age, the present, that has made an idol of money, Milton is more relevant than ever. Hawkes’ thorough reading of his subject is everything that the new books about Milton’s fellow multi-centenarian, Samuel Johnson, are not; to wit, an explanation of why his writing was and continues to be vital. --Ray Olson
"The 400th anniversary of Milton's birth provided Hawkes the opportunity to reexamine the great poet not only within a 17th-century context but in a 21st-century one, too. During an era of great unrest in England, Milton provoked controversy and debate over his ideas of sex, economics, religion, and political power systems. Thought to be ahead of his time, Milton frequently declared that he was not solely speaking to his contemporaries but to the people of the future. Here, Hawkes examines Milton's iconoclasm and his belief that the worshiping of images of all kinds, both figurative and metaphorical, was destructive. Interweaving historical events of his time, such as the Rump Parliament of 1649, Hawkes illuminates Milton's philosophy via his prose and poetry. Although contemporary readers may disapprove of Milton's beliefshe was in favor of polygamy and believed God picked "chosen ones" to lead the masseshe never made for dull reading. VERDICT Hawkes writes with little academic jargon, and his style is lively and entertaining. Political and religious history enthusiasts will find this excellent and challenging." Library Journal
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It is, however, extremely unfortunate, that the author uses this book as a means to issue constant philippic about the "evils of capitalism", "the vileness of lending at interest", etc. No matter one's view on these issues, a biography about John Milton and a detailed account of his works is an improper venue thereof. It is unscholarly and extremely irrelevant. And though nearly 1/3 of the book consists of said irrelevant lambasting, the portion that is actually biographic is excellent and I would recommend the book to anyone who is able to discern between fact and opinion. As such, the portion of the book that could be truly considered biographical is approximately 150 pages.
I for one am grateful that I purchased this book as it offers fascinating interpretations.
As a biography, it is lacking and I would recommend that anyone interested in the life of this phenomenal figure find his or her biography elsewhere.