To the uninitiated this may very well be the best introduction to the works of arguably the greatest prose writer in the English language, William Hazlitt. This particular edition contains a wealth of essays from a wide range of topics; which, considering the price, makes this a brilliant bargain.
However, not everything is perfect. For readers already acquainted with the works of Hazlitt, this edition leaves a lot to be desired. Many of his best works of prose remain strangely absent, and you may be better off investing in another collection. I would recommend trying to find a copy of "William Hazlitt Essayist and Critic - with a memoir, biographical and critical by Alexander Ireland
Were I reviewing the quality of Hazlitt's prose, or the interestingness of his ideas, this book would certainly get five stars. Hazlitt it is a wonderful writer, and this book provides a good introduction to his work. Particularly commendable is the way that the editor has organised the essays into thematic sections (Politics, Culture, The Self, etc). There is also a detailed introduction, a bibliography and plenty of explanatory notes. In summary, this edition represents an excellent single-volume introduction to Hazlitt's work.
My main complaint is that it is disappointing that some of Hazlitt's well-known essays are not included in this selection. The following are NOT included: 'On the pleasure of painting', 'On the pleasure of hating', 'On the connexion between toad-eaters and tyrants', 'Jeremy Bentham'. It is a pity that these essays aren't included, since they are among some of Hazlitt's best. They can all be found in Tom Paulin's Penguin anthology of Hazlitt's essays.
This criticism is, of course, slightly unfair: Hazlitt wrote a very large number of excellent essays, and it would be impossible to satisfy the expectations of everyone within the space of a 400-page anthology. The best course of action would be for readers to buy both this book and Paulin's edition, since both are reasonably priced.
This small collection of prose reveals Hazlitt as one of the great writers in English. Here are superb essays on politics, poetry, art and philosophy. The criticism of Shakespeare and Wordsworth is a marvel to read, as are his devastating polemics "On Fashion" and "On Public Opinion." Hazlitt's prose is masterly; muscular yet nuanced. Just leafing through the collection your eye is caught by startling pieces of insight, eloquently expressed. Furthermore, his writing reveals not only a great deal of knowledge, but more importantly, wisdom, which is a quality perhaps lacking amongst some intellectuals! This point is made clear in one of his aphorisms, which are characteristically witty and paradoxical:
"Buonaparte observes that the diplomatists of the new school were no match for those brought up under the ancien regime. The reason probably is, that the modern style of intellect inclines to abstract reasoning and general propositions, and pays less attention to individual character, interests, and circumstances. The moderns have, therefore...a greater knowledge of things, but less of the world."
This edition is a fine all-round introduction in one volume for new readers to the work of William Hazlitt. It contains his essay on population which, together with Godwin`s, is a superb antidote to the mythology of overpopulation put out by Malthus. It says a lot that Hazlitt`s and Godwin`s essays on the subject are largely ignored and allowed to be forgotten, hitherto only made available in ludicrously expensive editions, whereas Malthus` fallacious work is always readily available (due to its support for the brutal ethic of capitalism!)... Now Hazlitt can be read on the subject by the common reader. This edition also includes "The Fight" ~ Hazlitt`s tribute to the golden age of English boxing, in which he lived, and into which he gives us a good social insight.