For an installment in an Oxford University Press series called "Lives and Legacies", T. S. ELIOT contains surprisingly little about Eliot's life and it discusses his legacy even less. What it is is an intelligent and scholarly, yet readable, overview of Eliot's writings, principally his poetry. If, like me, you already are a fan of Eliot's poetry, I recommend the book. If you are not a fan, I doubt this book will turn you into one or otherwise do much for you.
To me, reading the book was most notable for encouraging the reader to look at Eliot's poetry as a body of work, as one extended poem. Over the years I have read many of Eliot's poems multiple times, but - in part, no doubt, because they are so complex and fecund - I have tended to think of the poems, or even discrete parts or stanzas, in isolation. Raine attempts to present Eliot's work as "one significant, consistent and developing personality." Towards that end, he identifies and explicates two overarching themes in particular: the failure to live fully (either as illustrated in the poems or ruefully recognized by many of the voices of the poems), and "classicism", an aesthetic stance that is skeptical of theatrical, exaggerated emotion (i.e., anti-Romantic). Raine also registered a point with me in describing Eliot's poetry as "impersonal", in the sense that in order to appreciate it a reader need know little or nothing about the biographical background of its author (unlike, for example, Sylvia Plath).
Raine makes his way through Eliot's oeuvre more or less chronologically, though his rather brief discussion of "Prufrock" is postponed until the middle of the book. He devotes one chapter each to "The Waste Land" and "Four Quartets", and then individual chapters to Eliot's dramas and to his literary criticism. For me, the first two chapters were the most rewarding, in part because they include insightful discussion of several of the lesser known (and, thus, less written about) poems - for example, "Animula", "Gerontion", and "Marina".
Raine's book is NOT a "reader's guide". He does not attempt, thankfully, to explicate each and every line of each and every poem. He confines himself to the thematic points he wishes to make, and he avoids the drudgery and stuffiness of an Oxford don (though he long taught there). Nonetheless, in discussing sources, models, and influences, he obviously draws on impressive Eliot scholarship. By and large, his writing is spare and taut, somewhat poetic and much less verbose than the typical texts of poetry criticism/exposition. (Still, there are quite a few 50-cent words, such as "oneiric" and "euphistically".)
At the end of this relatively brief book there is a lengthy (30-page) Appendix in which Raine discusses the charge, delivered by many critics, that T.S. Eliot was anti-Semitic. Here the tone of the book changes and Raine engages in rather prosaic academic polemics. I don't follow all of Raine's arguments in defense of Eliot, but then neither do I follow many of the accusers' arguments. For the general reader, it perhaps suffices to report that in Raine Eliot has an intelligent and reasoned defender, and before anyone (based on reading Anthony Julius, George Steiner, Louis Menand, etc.) mentally pigeonholes Eliot as an anti-Semite, in fairness they should read Raine's Appendix.
I bought the so-called "hardcover" edition. It is rather cheap and tacky, surprisingly so for a publication by such an august publishing house. The cover is some sort of pressed cardboard (I don't know the precise term) with a glossy finish on which the cover photo and text are directly emblazoned - i.e., there is no dust jacket. The edges of the pages are almost coterminous with the edges of the cover, and the paper itself is ordinary. The book is "bound" - more accurately, glued - indifferently, so that the first few pages of my copy have been given permanent waves in close to the gathering. These rather mediocre production features probably influence my four-star assessment.