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


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (27 Sep 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300186851
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300186857
  • Product Dimensions: 14 x 2.5 x 21.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 192,070 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.

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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful 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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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By nick on 7 April 2014
Format: Hardcover
I suppose to a certain extent there has to be a certain degree of subjectivity with a topic like this. I had problems with it because the author did not really qualify his decisions as to why certain authors were included in the text. There were some really interesting nuggets of interest but these really were few and far between. What attracted me to this book is it is written by an English Professor and it covered works literature rather than just English Literature. but at 265 pages long it was it just touched on ideas and concepts while spending too much time on biographies of authors. The author seemed to favour biography over the literature itself and the historical times in which each was written.

For someone totally new to literature this will be a real eye opener. It can give you a good idea of names for your "must-read lists" and does give a standard overview of the world of literature. I just left it feeling more had been left out than put in.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Christopher Sullivan on 12 Nov 2013
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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Format: Kindle Edition
Since childhood, I have cherished books as "magic carpets" by which to visit human experiences that would not have otherwise been accessible to me. The ten-year siege of Troy, for example, and then Odysseus' ten-year return voyage to Ithaca as well as the Italian Renaissance (and Dante), the Age of Elizabeth (and Shakespeare), and more recently, Hawthorne's New England, Dickens' London, Twain's Mississippi, and Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha County.

More often than not, I am reading and/or re-reading three or four books at any one time and that was the situation recently when accompanying two of my favorite authors, Michael Dirda and John Sutherlnd, during their explorations of great literature in this book as well as in Dirda's On Conan Doyle (2012) and Classics for Pleasure (2007).

This is not a definitive or even rigorous analysis of each of the major British authors and their major works. Rather, Sutherland shares what is of greatest interest to him. He also discusses transitions from literary one period to the next as well as recurring themes, correlations, and legacies. His selections and comments are subjective and that suits me just fine. In some cases I was revisiting old friends such as Chaucer, Spenser, Shakespeare, Donne, Austen, Dickens, Hardy, Conrad, and Orwell. In other instances, he shares his perspectives on literary subjects that range from "Fabulous Beginnings: Myth" and "The Book of Books: The King James Bible" to "Under the Blankets: Literature and Children" and "Magical Realisms: Borges, Grass, Rushdie, and Márquez." Given Sutherland's stated purposes, the scope of coverage is far greater than the depth of commentary.
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