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4.4 out of 5 stars
25
A Little History of Literature (Little Histories)
Format: Hardcover|Change
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Top Contributor: LegoHALL OF FAMETOP 50 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 15 February 2016
This is an enjoyable history of English Literature which consists of short essays on everything from early myths, through Shakespeare, the very first novels, poetry, Austen, Dickens, literature for (and about) children, the censorship of books and all the way up to today, with bestsellers, book prizes and reading groups being discussed.

Although this does not really give you a great deal of depth about any particular topic/author, it is a great introduction and very readable. A good starting point for anyone wishing to extend their reading, or wanting to read the classics and being unsure of where to start. All the major authors, as well as important movements – from Romanticism to Modernism – are mentioned here. From Woolf to Proust and the Bronte’s, this is a great overview of classic literature through the ages.
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on 10 January 2018
Chapter 3
1. ‘An ‘epic heroine’ is almost always a contradiction in terms.’ Interesting thought, why???
Or
2. ‘Only great civilisations have great literature’ not sure about this one either. Don’t civilisations have poetic myths and legends relating to their origins even if they didn’t conquer large portions of the world (which appears to be the definition of great being used)

‘We seem no longer able to make’ (epics)
Really? What about Tolkien?

This is just one chapter, but you get the idea.

The Little History of Religion and Philosophy both show the development of the subject over time. They refer back to illustrate connections and building blocks, explaining how we got where we are today. The History of Literature by contrast feels less well thought out. More a collection of essays and personal views about famous authors, arranged in chronological order rather than an overview of how literature has developed over time.
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on 16 May 2014
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". For example, although Kafka, Camus and Sartre are trotted out to discuss the unsettling bits of 19th/20th century literary thought, it is Austen who is given most credit for developments in narrative form and prose technique when it was really Flaubert who broke the mould but who is just trumped up for a bit of scandal in the chapter on censorship [I know, I wanted more English than French but a point is there]... Similarly, Chaucer is the main man for the Ye Olde stuff but no European details are given. It's a short work and it works very well, but I do think there's a bit of a labelling clash. Of course, as Sutherland is an English professor, nobody should judge him for sticking to his strengths [which he does beautifully].

All in all, buy it and read it. You'll learn a lot and you'll enjoy this stroll through the annals of the written word.
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on 16 January 2017
Fantastic easy to read book. Covers a range and is really easy to read without including ridiculously technical words.
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on 2 December 2017
good
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on 10 June 2017
An excellent, accessible introduction to a broad sweep of literary history: ideal for A Level students.
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on 6 September 2015
Short, pithy and easy to read.
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on 22 December 2015
Good
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on 7 April 2015
very good
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on 19 December 2013
But had to be called 'little' because it has to be selective in its subject matter. Nevertheless John Sutherland obviously knows - and enjoys - his subject and gives us the full benefit of this in this well written and expansive survey of English language literature.
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