Perhaps too dense for casual readers, but lotus to lovers of Homer.

Brief but rich history of a mysterious bard and two wondrous works that serve as foundation stones for Western culture.

“We don’t know anything about Homer,” bluntly declares prolific polymath Manguel (A Reading Diary: A Passionate Reader’s Reflections on a Year of Books, 2004, etc.). Nor, it seems, do we know much about the composition of The Iliad and The Odyssey, both attributed to him though it’s evident they were assembled by a person or persons from a variety of oral sources. Using principally Robert Fagles’s translations (“among the best and most graceful”), with some kind words for Alexander Pope’s efforts as well, Manguel walks us through the centuries with Odysseus, Achilles, Penelope et al. After a brief, book-by-book summary of each epic—a delight for dilatory high-school students who haven’t prepared for class—he offers a few pages (there can be no more) of speculation about Homer’s identity. Then he marches through intellectual history. Plato, Aristotle, Virgil and others, the author avers, felt the epics’ powerful influence. Early Christians attempted to extract religious principles from the texts. Shakespeare, apparently unfamiliar with them, took Troilus and Cressida from non-Homeric sources. Arabic scholars translated the texts in premedieval times, and Dante plopped Homer in hell. This causes Manguel to pause for an enlightening discussion of Homer’s underworld before continuing his journey into the Renaissance. We learn later that Pope knew no Greek and adapted his monumental translation from others’ work. Byron, Shelley and Mme. de Staël make appearances. Keats’s “On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer” appears in its entirety, as does Rupert Brooke’s lovely “Menelaus and Helen.” Nor does the author neglect Tennyson’s memorable lines about the aging Ulysses, home from the wars and bored. Heinrich Schliemann’s quest merits some pages, Joyce and Kazantzakis share a chapter and Walcott and Borges appear too.

Perhaps too dense for casual readers, but lotus to lovers of Homer.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-87113-976-4

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Atlantic Monthly

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2007



This is not the Nutcracker sweet, as passed on by Tchaikovsky and Marius Petipa. No, this is the original Hoffmann tale of 1816, in which the froth of Christmas revelry occasionally parts to let the dark underside of childhood fantasies and fears peek through. The boundaries between dream and reality fade, just as Godfather Drosselmeier, the Nutcracker's creator, is seen as alternately sinister and jolly. And Italian artist Roberto Innocenti gives an errily realistic air to Marie's dreams, in richly detailed illustrations touched by a mysterious light. A beautiful version of this classic tale, which will captivate adults and children alike. (Nutcracker; $35.00; Oct. 28, 1996; 136 pp.; 0-15-100227-4)

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 1996

ISBN: 0-15-100227-4

Page Count: 136

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996




An extravaganza in Bemelmans' inimitable vein, but written almost dead pan, with sly, amusing, sometimes biting undertones, breaking through. For Bemelmans was "the man who came to cocktails". And his hostess was Lady Mendl (Elsie de Wolfe), arbiter of American decorating taste over a generation. Lady Mendl was an incredible person,- self-made in proper American tradition on the one hand, for she had been haunted by the poverty of her childhood, and the years of struggle up from its ugliness,- until she became synonymous with the exotic, exquisite, worshipper at beauty's whrine. Bemelmans draws a portrait in extremes, through apt descriptions, through hilarious anecdote, through surprisingly sympathetic and understanding bits of appreciation. The scene shifts from Hollywood to the home she loved the best in Versailles. One meets in passing a vast roster of famous figures of the international and artistic set. And always one feels Bemelmans, slightly offstage, observing, recording, commenting, illustrated.

Pub Date: Feb. 23, 1955

ISBN: 0670717797

Page Count: -

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 25, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1955

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