After a rather didactic essay covering most of the commoner facts about the art of writing, Mr. Maurois goes on to practise better than he preaches in 12 brief essays about Voltaire, Rousseau, Stendhal, Balzac, Flaubert, Proust, Goethe, Leopardi, Tolstoi, Tchekov, Gogol and Turgenev. Little of this material, naturally, is entirely new. What is perhaps most interesting in this book is that a writer who is himself almost a classic should attempt to give new life to such classic and often reworked writers. And there is more art than is apparent in these compact and tidy essays -- they are almost models of the form. Each writer's life, major works, and principal themes are summed up in surprisingly brief space, and described in restrained prose. If this lacks some of the personal charm, intensity and details of some kinds of modern criticism, it is the intended lack of a school of disciplined writing. This deliberate stance of the biographer who remains in the background results in a somewhat dry but comprehensive guidebook to a number of important writers.