One fascinating essay after another from one of America’s best critics.



Erudite essays on classical and contemporary culture.

The role of a critic, writes Mendelsohn (Humanities/Bard Coll.; An Odyssey: A Father, a Son, and an Epic, 2017, etc.), is “to educate and edify in an engaging and, preferably, entertaining way.” The author has used his classical training not for rebarbative academic papers but for “getting readers to love and appreciate the works that I myself loved and appreciated.” The pieces in this collection, most of them written for the New Yorker and the New York Review of Books, demonstrate how brilliantly he has succeeded. Some of them focus on the ancient Greek poets and tragedies he loves, such as Sappho and Antigone. Mendelsohn invokes the classics to offer perspectives on modern-day events, as when he compares the Kennedy family curses to Oresteia and its assumption that there is “a connection between the sins of the fathers and the sufferings of the children and their children afterward.” Astute observations populate essays on topics from Brideshead Revisited and Ingmar Bergman films to George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, which he calls a “remarkable feminist epic.” Readers might challenge some points—e.g., when Mendelsohn writes that Hanya Yanagihara’s novel A Little Life is “about a subject that is too rarely explored in contemporary letters: nonsexual friendship among adult men,” one might cite works by Richard Russo, Denis Johnson, Raymond Carver, and many others. However, Mendelsohn’s points are always passionately argued. He strikes the perfect balance between learned and playful, as when he wonders what 46th-century archaeologists, sifting through the ruins of 21st-century America, will make of building inscriptions such as Condé Nast and Michael Kors or whether the “presence of mysterious symbols—in particular, an apple with a bite taken out of it—will raise the vexed question of whether the site was sacred or secular.”

One fascinating essay after another from one of America’s best critics.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-68137-405-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: New York Review Books

Review Posted Online: June 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

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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

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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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