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A Little History of Literature (Little Histories) Hardcover – 27 Sep 2013

4.5 out of 5 stars 18 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (27 Sept. 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300186851
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300186857
  • Product Dimensions: 14 x 2.5 x 21.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 167,172 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

"As a guidebook, it's a cracker. What Sutherland has to offer is formidable breadth of reading, a generous spirit and a rebounding enthusiasm for his subject."-Sam Leith, Spectator -- Sam Leith Spectator 'Written in prose that is clear and free from the diktat of theory and criticism, A Little History of Literature is an enjoyable account of a lifelong involvement with literature.'-John Vukmirovich, Times Literary Supplement -- John Vukmirovich Times Literary Supplement 'A Little History of Literature, which begins with Beowulf and ends with bestsellers, is primarily a guide for teenagers, and John Sutherland brings to the vast and unruly subject some order, clarity and commonsense.'-Frances Wilson, New Statesman -- Frances Wilson New Statesman 'I suspect that an expert like John Sutherland could have written this highly entertaining and informative history without recourse to any research at all, having it pretty much at his fingertips; and it reads extremely well, as though he is simply having a chat with us about literature and why it matters.'-Lesley McDowell, Independent on Sunday -- Lesley McDowell Independent on Sunday Praise for John Sutherland: 'John Sutherland is among the handful of critics whose every book I must have. He's sharp-eyed and sharp-tongued, with a generous heart and a wise head.'-Jay Parini -- Jay Parini "This slim book makes for a necessarily cursory review of literature's greats - and the loving treatment by an expert ... will please both novices and established readers looking to dip back into well-loved works."-Shelf Awareness Shelf Awareness "A genial, enthusiastic guide leads a jaunt through literary history... [Sutherland's] aim is not to draw a line between high art and low, but to share his prodigious joy of reading."-Kirkus Reviews Kirkus Reviews

About the Author

John Sutherland, Lord Northcliffe Professor Emeritus of Modern English Literature, University College London, has taught students at every level and is the author or editor of more than 20 books. He lives in London.


Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Kindle Edition
John Sutherland, author of A Little History of Literature, takes us by the hand and leads us safely through the deep, heavily wooded forest that is the written word. As the author states in his introduction to the book, "...literature is not a little thing. There is hugely more of it than any of us will read in a lifetime." Thankfully the author utilises a path constructed of wonderful books that make the journey a very pleasant affair.
During the author's journey we encounter the likes of Homer, Chaucer, the Metaphysical Poets, Dr. Johnson, Jane Austen, the Romantic Poets, Kipling, Woolf and many others. John Sutherland finds the time to stop and tell us stories about Theatre in the Street, Who `owns' literature, The King James Bible and Literature and the censor. It may be `a little history' but the book is 284 pages long.
As with any book that crams a long history of any subject, and particularly literature, into relatively few pages there will be many people debating as to who should have been included within the author's pages. Personally, I believe the omission of the poet Stevie Smith when discussing the the `voice of pain' as an oversight. Ted Hughes believed that at the bottom of the inner most spirit of poetry is a `voice of pain'. Included in this discussion is the poets John Berryman, Anne Sexton. Both of these poets committed suicide and in their poetry they `signalled the act'. Stevie Smith is also a member of the suicide club that is very peculiar to poets. Personally, I believe her poetry is head and shoulders above that of John Berrymans and at least on a par with that of Anne Sexton.
I could take umbrage with Mr Sutherland over his decision not to mention or acknowledge the likes of Evelyn Waugh and E.E. Cummings.
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By Roman Clodia TOP 100 REVIEWER on 12 Oct. 2013
Format: Hardcover
This is an engaging short history of literature that would serve first-year English undergraduates well, as well as general readers. It is mainly focused on English (British) literature though it does start with Gilgamesh (Sumerian) and Homer's Greek epics, and touches briefly on Europeans such as Kafka, Proust, and a few Americans. I would describe this as a conservative book with few surprises: so the whole of the English Renaissance is reduced to just Shakespeare, and all the `canonical' writers are here.

I guess a book this short inevitably has to make compromises and we would all write a different `history of literature' according to our own perspectives and interests. Some of Sutherland's exclusions and excisions surprised me, though: classical Latin literature disappears completely as we jump from Greek tragedy to Anglo-Saxon and then Chaucer. Sophocles' Greek play Oedipos Tyrannos is, oddly and incorrectly, given a Latin name, Oedipus Rex: Sutherland is right, of course, that King Lear draws on this text but Shakespeare would most probably have known it via Seneca's Latin Oedipus Rex, not in Sophocles' Greek original.

There are also some surprisingly old-fashioned and out-dated ways of reading poetry as biography (`the sonnets offer rare insights into Shakespeare the man', `Shakespeare may have been bisexual'), and some statements made as facts which can, from the evidence of the texts, be proved wrong: `today we are, generally speaking, more sophisticated than our predecessors three centuries ago' - er, really? The original readers of, for example, Milton's Paradise Lost, or Sidney's Astrophil and Stella, or Donne's `metaphysical' poetry, not to mention Virgil's Aeneid from even earlier were as or, possibly, more sophisticated readers than we, generally, are.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I confess to being a bit of an [unsuccessful] academic snob. I left university knowing a decent amount about French and Arabic literature but little general or English-specific information about literature. I therefore wanted a comprehensive survey and looked about for some heavy, weighty, clever books to make my shelves look more intelligent than their owner. Of course, this book doesn't fit into that category [it has cute little pictures and mentions Fifty Shades of Filth and Bob Dylan], but I popped it into my cart at the end of my trip as I enjoyed John Sutherland's 'Desert Island Discs' broadcast and thought it would be 'nice'. So far, needless to say it's the only one I've read and most likely the only one I'll enjoy.

It's a terrific book, written with a charming balance of erudition, honesty, enthusiasm and self-deprecation. Not once does Sutherland wave his credentials in your face; rather, he's an expert in the 'Show, Don't Tell' school of authorship as he guides the reader throughout the history of the written word - and makes it very easy to enjoy and absorb in the process.

Whereas I was expecting a chiefly chronological survey divided into dates, Sutherland's book is split into 40-odd chapters on different literary ideas or phenomena, which, although they follow a broad chronological outline in that they start with Athens scrolls and end with Kindle misery, focus more on authors' modes, styles and contexts for their writing.

I've given four stars as I couldn't help thinking that this should really be called "A Little History of Literature through the lens of ENGLISH Literature, with some foreign bits thrown in to fill the important gaps we Brits couldn't manage".
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