The reputation of Arnold Toynbee—whose Study of History was called by Time magazine "the best available guide to the meaning of history and the destiny of humankind"—has over the intervening years slipped into a scholarly limbo. Toynbee's type of sweeping overview of the rise and decline of civilizations has become suspect; specialization is now the watchword among historians. In this gracefully written, subtly reasoned, warts-and-all (thought not vindictive) biography, McNeill (History/Univ. of Chicago; Rise of the West, 1964) does not aim to set Toynee back atop a pedestal, but merely to stimulate a reevaluation of the British historian's theories and works. The result is a cogent, evenhanded, and consistently involving study. The author is just as scrupulous in his depiction of Toynbee's personal life. He makes no attempt to gloss over his subject's many shortcomings: Toynbee's combination of outward modesty and inward craving for adulation, his near-pathological concern for financial security, his coldness toward his children, his snobbery. The only son of a middle-class family aways terrified of toppling into genteel poverty, Toynbee was an intellectual wonder. He was awarded scholarships to prestigious schools and consistently walked off with honors. He remained a researchaholic all his life, turning out masses of detailed papers and books; and later married the imperious Rosalind Murray, daughter of Gilbert Murray and his aristocratic wife, Lady Mary—a connection that eased his rise to prominence. As his monumental Study of History appeared in volume after volume, his reputation likewise burgeoned. Ultimately, after several children, Rosalind converted to Roman Catholicism, and the marriage split asunder. Toynbee was devastated, but in time he married his research assistant. Over the years, he formed his own peculiar version of religiosity; it was this spiritual "awakening" that accounts for the switch in tone between the earlier and later volumes of his masterwork, a disparity often noted by subsequent critic/historians. A fair and stimulating look at an immensely gifted, immensely flawed figure.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: 19-505863-1

Page Count: -

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1989

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



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


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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