Criticism

The Most Dangerous Book: The Battle for James Joyce’s Ulysses
Kevin Birmingham

(2015) The Most Dangerous Book tells the remarkable story surrounding Ulysses, from the first stirrings of Joyce’s inspiration in 1904 to the book’s landmark federal obscenity trial in 1933. Written for ardent Joyceans as well as novices who want to get to the heart of the greatest novel of the twentieth century,The Most Dangerous Book is a gripping examination of how the world came to say Yes to Ulysses.

Disaster Drawn: Visual Witness, Comics, and Documentary Form
Hillary Chute

(2016) In hard-hitting accounts of Auschwitz, Bosnia, Palestine, and Hiroshima’s Ground Zero, comics display a stunning capacity to bear witness to trauma. Investigating how hand-drawn comics has come of age as a serious medium for engaging history, Disaster Drawn explores the ways graphic narratives by diverse artists, including Jacques Callot, Francisco Goya, Keiji Nakazawa, Art Spiegelman, and Joe Sacco, document the disasters of war.

The Poetry of John Milton
Gordon Teskey

(2015) In this panoramic interpretation, the distinguished Milton scholar Gordon Teskey shows how the poet’s changing commitments are subordinated to an aesthetic that joins beauty to truth and value to ethics. The art of poetry is rediscovered by Milton as a way of thinking in the world as it is, and for the world as it can be.

The Ocean, the Bird, and the Scholar
Helen Vendler

(2015). One of our foremost commentators on poetry examines the work of a broad range of nineteenth- and twentieth-century English, Irish, and American poets. The Ocean, the Bird, and the Scholar gathers two decades’ worth of Helen Vendler’s essays, book reviews, and occasional prose―including the 2004 Jefferson Lecture―in a single volume.

Unpacking My Library: Writers and Their Books
Leah Price

(2011). Unpacking My Library: Writers and Their Books spotlights the personal libraries of thirteen novelists who share their collections with readers. It features the libraries of, and interviews with, Alison Bechdel, Stephen Carter, Junot Díaz, Rebecca Goldstein and Steven Pinker, Lev Grossman and Sophie Gee, Jonathan Lethem, Claire Messud and James Wood, Philip Pullman, Gary Shteyngart, and Edmund White.

Literary Secretaries / Secretarial Culture
Leah Price

(2005). Topics range from copyright law to voice recognition software, from New Women to haunted typewriters and from the history of technology to the future of information management. Together, the essays will provide literary critics with a new angle on current debates about gender, labour, and the material text, as well as a window into the prehistory of our information age.

Loving Literature: A Cultural History
Deidre Shauna Lynch

(2015). Of the many charges laid against contemporary literary scholars, one of the most common—and perhaps the most wounding—is that they simply don’t love books. And while the most obvious response is that, no, actually the profession of literary studies does acknowledge and address personal attachments to literature, that answer risks obscuring a more fundamental question: Why should they?

Stutter
Marc Shell

(2006). In a book that explores the phenomenon of stuttering from its practical and physical aspects to its historical profile to its existential implications, Marc Shell plumbs the depths of this murky region between will and flesh, intention and expression, idea and word.

The Drama of Ideas
Martin Puchner

(2010). Most philosophy has rejected the theater, denouncing it as a place of illusion or moral decay; the theater in turn has rejected philosophy, insisting that drama deals in actions, not ideas. Challenging both views, The Drama of Ideas shows that theater and philosophy have been crucially intertwined from the start.

The Metaphysical Club
Louis Menand

(2002). The Metaphysical Club was an informal group that met in Cambridge, Ma, in 1872, to talk about ideas. Its members included Oliver Well Holmes, Jr., future Supreme Court justice; William James, the father of modern American psychology; and Charles Sanders Peirce, logician, scientist, and the founder of semiotics. The Club was probably in existence for about 9 months. No records were kept. The one thing we know that came out of it was an idea — an idea about ideas. This book is the story of that idea.

Shakespeare’s Freedom
Stephen Greenblatt

(2010). Shakespeare lived in a world of absolutes—of claims for the absolute authority of scripture, monarch, and God, and the authority of fathers over wives and children, the old over the young, and the gentle over the baseborn. With the elegance and verve for which he is well known, Stephen Greenblatt, author of the best-selling Will in the World, shows that Shakespeare was strikingly averse to such absolutes and constantly probed the possibility of freedom from them.

Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare
Stephen Greenblatt

(2005). Will in the World interweaves a searching account of Elizabethan England with a vivid narrative of the playwright’s life. We see Shakespeare learning his craft, starting a family, and forging a career for himself in the wildly competitive London theater world, while at the same time grappling with dangerous religious and political forces.

The Swerve: How the World Became Modern
Stephen Greenblatt

(2011). The Swerve is both an innovative work of history and a thrilling story of discovery, in which the last surviving manuscript of an ancient Roman philosophical epic (On the Nature of Things by Lucretius), plucked from a thousand years of neglect, changed the course of human thought and made possible the world as we know it.

The Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Reader
Henry Louis Gates, Jr

(2012). From his earliest work of literary-historical excavation in 1982, through his current writings on the history and science of African American genealogy, the essays collected here follow his path as historian, theorist, canon-builder, and cultural critic, revealing a thinker of uncommon breadth whose work is uniformly guided by the drive to uncover and restore a history that has for too long been buried and denied.

Shakespeare and Modern Culture
Marjorie Garber

(2009). Shakespeare has determined many of the ideas that we think of as “naturally” true: ideas about human character, individuality and selfhood, government, leadership, love and jealousy, men and women, youth and age. Marjorie Garber delves into ten plays to explore the interrelationships between Shakespeare and contemporary culture, from James Joyce’s Ulysses to George W. Bush’s reading list.

The Vehement Passions
Philip Fisher

(2002). From Aristotle to contemporary biology, Fisher finds evidence that the passions have defined a core of human nature no less important than reason or desire. Traversing the Iliad, King Lear, Moby Dick, and other great works, he discerns the properties of the high-spirited states we call the passions. In reintroducing us to our own vehemence, Fisher reminds us that it is only through our strongest passions that we feel the contours of injustice, mortality, loss, and knowledge.

Still the New World: American Literature in a Culture of Creative Destruction
Philip Fisher

(2000). In this bold reinterpretation of American culture, Philip Fisher describes generational life as a series of renewed acts of immigration into a new world. Along with the actual flood of immigrants, technological change brings about an immigration of objects and systems, ways of life and techniques for the distribution of ideas. Still the New World makes a persuasive argument against the reduction of literature to identity questions of race, gender, and ethnicity.

Saving Higher Education in the Age of Money
James Engell

(2005). Since 1965 an increasing preoccupation with money has resulted in the inversion of its role in higher education, from a practical means to an end that crowds out all others. No longer do students and parents choose the best education that “money can buy.” Instead, they are faced with choosing which school will “buy them more money.” This comes as no surprise, as tuitions have doubled since 1985. Yet the question persists: at what real cost are we sending our students to college?

The Irresponsible Self: On Laughter and the Novel
James Wood

(2005). In twenty-three passionate, sparkling dispatches, James Wood effortlessly connects his encyclopedic, passionate understanding of the literary canon with an equally earnest and appreciative view of the most discussed authors writing today, including Franzen, Pynchon, Rushdie, DeLillo, Naipaul, David Foster Wallace, and Zadie Smith.

The Novel of Purpose: Literature and Social Reform in the Anglo-American World
Amanda Claybaugh

(2006). In the nineteenth century, Great Britain and the United States shared a single literary marketplace that linked the reform movements, as well as the literatures, of the two nations. The writings of transatlantic reformers—antislavery, temperance, and suffrage activists—gave novelists a new sense of purpose and prompted them to invent new literary forms. The result was a distinctively Anglo-American realism, in which novelists, conceiving of themselves as reformers, sought to act upon their readers—and, through their readers, the world.

The Broken Estate: Essays on Literature and Belief
James Wood

(2000). Ranging in subject from Jane Austen to John Updike, this collection introduced American readers to a new kind of humanist criticism. Wood is committed to judging literature through its connection with the soul, its appeal to our appetites and identities, and he examines his subjects rigorously, without ever losing sight of the mysterious human impulse that has made these works valuable to generations of readers.

The Location of Culture
Homi K. Bhabha

(1994). Rethinking questions of identity, social agency and national affiliation, Bhabha provides a working, if controversial, theory of cultural. In The Location of Culture, he uses concepts such as mimicry, interstice, hybridity, and liminality to argue that cultural production is always most productive where it is most ambivalent.

How Fiction Works
James Wood

(2009). The book asks “some of the essential questions about the art of fiction. Is realism real? How do we define a successful metaphor? What is character? When do we recognize a brilliant use of detail in fiction? What is point of view, and how does it work? What is imaginative sympathy? Why does fiction move us?

The Anthology and the Rise of the Novel: From Richardson to George Eliot
Leah Price

(2003). The Anthology and the Rise of the Novel brings together two traditionally antagonistic fields, book history and narrative theory, to challenge established theories of “the rise of the novel.” Covering British novelists from Richardson to George Eliot, this study asks why the epistolary novel disappeared, how the book review emerged, and how editors’ reproduction of old texts has shaped authors’ production of new ones.

The Line’s Eye
Elisa New

(1999). Is American vision implicitly possessive, as a generation of critics contends? By viewing the American poetic tradition through the prism of pragmatism, Elisa New contests this claim. A new reading of how poetry “sees,” her work is a passionate defense of the power of the poem, the ethics of perception, and the broader possibilities of American sight.

Thinking in an Emergency
Elaine Scarry

(2011). Elaine Scarry lays bare the realities of “emergency” politics and emphasizes what she sees as the ultimate ethical concern: “equality of survival.” She reveals how regular citizens can reclaim the power to protect one another and our democratic principles. Government leaders sometimes argue that the need for swift national action means there is no time for deliberation or debate. But Scarry shows that clear thinking and rapid action are not in opposition.

Rule of Law, Misrule of Men
Elaine Scarry

(2010). This book is a passionate call for citizen action to uphold the rule of law when government does not. Arguing that post-9/11 legislation and foreign policy severed the executive branch from the will of the people, Elaine Scarry in Rule of Law, Misrule of Men offers a fierce defense of the people’s role as guarantor of our democracy.

The Marketplace of Ideas
Louis Menand

(2010). What makes it so hard for colleges to decide which subjects are required? Why are so many academics against the concept of interdisciplinary studies? Sparking a long-overdue debate about the future of American education, The Marketplace of Ideas argues that twenty-first-century professors and students are essentially trying to function in a nineteenth-century system, and that the resulting conflict threatens to overshadow the basic pursuit of knowledge and truth.

Under the Hammer: Iconoclasm in the Anglo-American Tradition
James Simpson

(2011). When we think of breaking images, we assume that it happens somewhere else. We tend to look with horror on iconoclasm. This book argues instead that iconoclasm is a central strand of Anglo-American modernity. Our horror at the destruction of art derives in part from the fact that we too did, and still do, that. This is most obviously true of England’s iconoclastic century between 1538 and 1643.