INVENTING THE MIDDLE AGES

THE LIVES, WORKS, AND IDEAS OF THE GREAT MEDIEVALISTS OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY

Tracing the ``quest'' for the Middle Ages, Cantor (History, Sociology, Comparative Lit./N.Y.U.; Perspectives on the European Past, 1971, etc.) has drafted a riveting chapter of 20th-century intellectual history. In this penetrating, opinionated, colorful study, Cantor paints sharp portraits of 20 modern medievalists—some heroes, some ``authoritarian egoists''—whose research has formed our vision of the Middle Ages. Delving into their psyches and explaining their brilliance and influence, Cantor shows that the writing of history is inextricably bound to the present, that historians like C.S. Lewis, Joseph Strayer (Eisenhower-era Princeton professor who worked for the CIA), or French Resistance hero Marc Bloch projected their personalities and the wider sociopolitical context onto their work. Percy Ernst Schramm and Ernst Kantorowicz's studies of medieval ``kingship,'' written in 1920's Heidelberg, reflect their elitism (Cantor calls them ``The Nazi Twins'') and the anxieties of the unstable Weimar Republic, just as Frederic Maitland's work on English law breathes the modernism of Eliot and Kandinsky. Passionately involved in the field, Cantor confesses his biases and disappointments—e.g., that his Oxford don Richard Southern (The Making of the Middle Ages) failed to attain the pervasive influence of Marc Bloch, whose Feudal Society was the last half-century's other ``most influential'' book on medieval history. Never shy to label or judge, or to discuss the dark side of human motivation, Cantor claims that Bloch's ``heritage of sanctity....was exploited to build a power-base for his Annalist colleagues and disciples.'' The Middle Ages, Cantor convincingly contends, has deep affinities to the 20th century not only in heritage (church, university, Anglo-American law, etc.) but as ``the secret sharer of our dreams and anxieties.'' His final, fiery call for a ``retromedievalism'' that ``reasserts the freedom of civil society'' is extreme but provocative. Engrossing, insightful, and bound to ruffle in its characterizations and its claim for the Middle Ages as central to the struggle to understand the spiritual and intellectual crises of our own age.

Pub Date: Dec. 16, 1991

ISBN: 0-688-09406-6

Page Count: 488

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1991

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Analyzing his craft, a careful craftsman urges with Thoreauvian conviction that writers should simplify, simplify, simplify.

SEVERAL SHORT SENTENCES ABOUT WRITING

New York Times columnist and editorial board member delivers a slim book for aspiring writers, offering saws and sense, wisdom and waggery, biases and biting sarcasm.

Klinkenborg (Timothy; or, Notes of an Abject Reptile, 2006), who’s taught for decades, endeavors to keep things simple in his prose, and he urges other writers to do the same. (Note: He despises abuses of the word as, as he continually reminds readers.) In the early sections, the author ignores traditional paragraphing so that the text resembles a long free-verse poem. He urges readers to use short, clear sentences and to make sure each one is healthy before moving on; notes that it’s acceptable to start sentences with and and but; sees benefits in diagramming sentences; stresses that all writing is revision; periodically blasts the formulaic writing that many (most?) students learn in school; argues that knowing where you’re headed before you begin might be good for a vacation, but not for a piece of writing; and believes that writers must trust readers more, and trust themselves. Most of Klinkenborg’s advice is neither radical nor especially profound (“Turn to the poets. / Learn from them”), and the text suffers from a corrosive fallacy: that if his strategies work for him they will work for all. The final fifth of the text includes some passages from writers he admires (McPhee, Oates, Cheever) and some of his students’ awkward sentences, which he treats analytically but sometimes with a surprising sarcasm that veers near meanness. He includes examples of students’ dangling modifiers, malapropisms, errors of pronoun agreement, wordiness and other mistakes.

Analyzing his craft, a careful craftsman urges with Thoreauvian conviction that writers should simplify, simplify, simplify.

Pub Date: Aug. 7, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-307-26634-7

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2012

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Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis...

THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE

50TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION

Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.

Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").

Pub Date: May 15, 1972

ISBN: 0205632645

Page Count: 105

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1972

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