A mixed bag, but with rewards for fans of Schama’s scholarly tours de force, such as The Embarrassment of Riches (1987) and...

Historian and UK TV personality Schama (Art History and History/Columbia Univ.; The American Future: A History, 2009, etc.) gathers scattered pieces, mostly journalistic, blending scholarship and pop culture.

It’s a little tough to imagine, say, T.S. Eliot writing at any length on pinball or air hockey, but roll with it: Schama has all the Oxbridge credentials and is a bona fide intellectual, but he’s also a consumer of food, film, art and other less musty pursuits than haunting the library stacks. Here he roams among pursuits, genially and for the most part without undue stuffiness. An early piece in the collection is an account, published in the New Yorker, of a transatlantic crossing aboard the Queen Mary 2, nice work if you can get it; as if channeling George Steiner, Schama sniffs that it is possible, with all the shipboard amusements, for passengers “who may have mixed feelings about the ocean to ignore it.” He makes up for the petulance, though, by providing a quick historical survey of the amenities available to, say, Charles Dickens and anyone with the means to book passage on the luxury liner today. Elsewhere, the author performs an almost obligatory homage to Isaiah Berlin, dean of his generation of scholars and possessor of a sublimely humane intelligence. Scholarly and popular essays on Churchill, Shakespeare and Charlotte Rampling follow before Schama settles down to the poppiest of his pop-culture subjects, namely food, even as he worries that “the sheer ubiquity and quantity of food-wording has…lowered the bar of quality.” No worries here, for the author’s writing on food is fresh and interesting, as are his remarks at the end of the collection on how to train a generation of younger scholars to be relevant, if not employable on television.

A mixed bag, but with rewards for fans of Schama’s scholarly tours de force, such as The Embarrassment of Riches (1987) and Landscape and Memory (1995).

Pub Date: April 12, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-06-200986-9

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: April 8, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2011



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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