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The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages [Paperback]

Harold Bloom
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (50 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Jan. 17 2002
Literary critic Harold Bloom's The Western Canon is more than a required reading list-it is a vision. Infused with a love of learning, compelling in its arguments for a unifying written culture, it argues brilliantly against the politicization of literature and presents a guide to the great works of the western literary tradition and essential writers of the ages. The Western Canon was nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award.

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The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages + Shakespeare:Invention of the Human + How to Read and Why
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Discussed and debated, revered and reviled, Bloom's tome reinvigorates and re-examines Western Literature, arguing against the politicization of reading. His erudite passion will encourage you to hurry and finish his book so you can pick up Shakespeare, Austen and Dickens once again to rediscover their original magic. In addition, his appendix listing of the "future" canon - the books today that will be timeless tomorrow - is sure to be the template for future debate.

From Library Journal

Any new "real" book by Bloom (humanities, Yale Univ.), as opposed to one containing recycled essays, is a major event. This salvo in defense of the Western canon is particularly important. Bloom pulls few punches in arguing the importance of influence and tradition. Shakespeare is the centerpiece here, and 25 other pivotal authors are considered in relationship to him, each other, and their respective genres in a way too complex to explain. Coverage is multinational and multigenerational. To get much out of this work, readers will have to have read very broadly and deeply. The main authors are only touchstones; any given page is likely to reference four or five authors, and hundreds are actually discussed. Some will see this as reactionary, others as visionary; it should cause some stir in the literary establishment. Essential for most academic and large public libraries.
Robert E. Brown, Onondaga Cty. P.L., Syracuse, N.Y.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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ORIGINALLY THE Canon meant the choice of books in our teaching institutions. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A good, if difficult to approach, book. Feb. 15 2004
If there is a problem with this book, it doesn't sit in any of Bloom's arguments, but rather in the fact that the underlying assumption about the canon is you've already read it. At heart, Harold Bloom's book is basically a series of essays on the best works of the best authors Western Literature has to offer. Unfortunately, few people will have read every author listed. Without at least a passing familiarity with the authors Bloom talks about, the book is useless.
Everyone will have quibbles with the exact authors chosen, and I'm no different. I have doubts about the place in the cannon of Borgas and Neruda. But to really get anything out of this book, you have to look beyond that. Even if you disagree with his choices, you may benefit by at least listening to and considering his opinions.
But in the end, what's most thought provoking is the argument against the politicization of literature. I've repeatedly heard Harold Bloom called a "conservative critic." Hogwash! The books and authors he advocates seem to take care to write works that aren't about politics, but instead strive for a thoughtful art form.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Refreshing and important Jan. 19 2002
I got a kick out of the reviewer from Texas who claims to be a writer and a former English minor in college but who can't spell the words "nonsense" and "stir." He says that Bloom babbles and fights "straw men." Well, cowboy, you have to be far away from the real world not to know that the multiculturalists (who don't know much about culture) are destroying university English departments and reading books for the ethnicity of their authors or to support their political agendas rather than to enrich the inner life. These people are the exact opposite of straw men. And Bloom brilliantly exposes them.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Worth looking into, but seriously flawed... May 17 2002
This book amounts to a survey of Western literature since Dante and Shakespeare, and is a typical Bloom-book in being very thought-provoking.
His central message is a very important one -- Western civilization is apparently at some risk of abandoning its literature. However improbable this may sound, I hasten to assure you that our radicalized universities have done everything in their power to neglect and abandon our literary masterpieces. At a large state university in California, the standard reading list for the "Great Books" course (formerly several dozen books) has been reduced to:

1. Plato's "Symposium"
2. Thoreau's "Walden"
3. Gandhi's "Hind Swaraj"
4. Alice Walker's "The Color Purple"
Even more melancholy is the fact that this list evidently includes one "gay" book, one "environmentalist" book, one "pacifist" book, and one "feminist" book. That three of them are bilge seems not to have occurred to the nominating committee. (Many would deny Thoreau that palm -- I urge them to re-read this idiotic pretentious crack-pate in the company of "Saint Gandhi" and his lunatic prescriptions for India: "Get rid of all the trains and all the doctors," indeed!)
So, the current situation in American universities is chilling, reminiscent of the Chinese purges during the "Cultural Revolution" (which was actually neither cultural nor a revolution, come to think of it, since it was a counter-revolution instigated by Mao against his enemies, and was explicitly anti-intellectual and anti-cultural. A mob attacked and destroyed the birthplace of Confucious during those palmy days.)
Nevertheless, although Bloom is fighting the good fight, and is extremely erudite and thought-provoking, I must note two very serious objections to this present work.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Thank God I read this book Sept. 17 2003
By A Customer
When I think of the crackpot, marginalised trivia that was served up to me as "literary theory" at University... at times I wondered why we did not simply bin all our novels, plays, and poetry collections, and just sit in circles of mutual reassurance discussing teenage/feminist/homosexual angst.
Bloom urgently draws our attention back to the fact that the Canon is all about LITERATURE. (Perhaps someday we will find out how they entered the classrooms and covertly escorted literature off the premises).
When I read a great work, I expect to find excellent craftsmanship and profound insights into human nature, along with exquisite choice of language, aesthetic sensibilities, imagery, plot, allusions, and all the subtle pleasures of a deeply satisfying read.
If only "dead white males" (and females) have succeeded in producing work to this standard, then so be it. (I often wonder why the dead-white-male mantra brigade have deliberately written Jane Austen, Virginia Woolf, George Eliot, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Willa Cather, etc., etc., etc., out of history). We don't need anarchic, intentionally disruptive voices interrupting the work every two minutes.
Clearly, the "dumbing down" movement has taken a grip on all areas of our great culture. But to mount so blatant an attack on the bastions of the masters of our heritage, as some of the reviewers here have done, either indicates that rashness has replaced subversive stealth, or else the threat is greater than we thought, and that we need to bring even greater literary cannon to bear...
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Most recent customer reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars Ah, the notion that you must be a snob to love great works..
I bought this book hoping to learn more about certain works I love, and other works I am not yet familiar with. Read more
Published on June 17 2004
3.0 out of 5 stars Bloom is right and wrong
He is dead on right about the university system collapsing into madness. At my college alone(U of Iowa), they have 5 classes about african american Literature, and one devoted to... Read more
Published on April 8 2004
3.0 out of 5 stars Essays aren't much to shout about - the list has been useful
I discovered this book in high school, and was pleased to find someone who thoughts books were as important and exciting as I did. Read more
Published on June 11 2003 by Gulley Jimson
1.0 out of 5 stars Joke
Just one question: where is T.S.Eliot?.Hate this book.Bloom is not a serious critic and if you want one, i can give you now: T.S.ELIOT. End of story. Read more
Published on May 4 2003
5.0 out of 5 stars Is it still paranoia if you are right?
Like those in Blake, Dostoevsky, and Dickinson, the ideas in The Western Canon caused me great mental strife. Read more
Published on Nov. 20 2002 by B. C. White
3.0 out of 5 stars wisdom of the ages, including our own
Well I think any list of books, and this one is only 26 items long, is absurdly reductive. I also think any discussion of "the canon" would benefit from perhaps a short history of... Read more
Published on Feb. 5 2002 by Doug Anderson
4.0 out of 5 stars The anxiety of aesthetic influence
You will see below a review which points out a perceived contradiction in Bloom's book. Apparently, according to the reviewer, Bloom's idea that the value of a work is primarily... Read more
Published on Jan. 11 2002 by J. Brown
2.0 out of 5 stars What's he talking about?
I have a test I like to use. I call it the 100 page test. When a book comes highly recommended to me I'll usually get it and read it-- or I'll read the first 100 pages of it... Read more
Published on Jan. 10 2002 by Edwin J. Putman
5.0 out of 5 stars Educate yourself
Ever suspected that there really are standards in the world? Sick of bland relativism? Want to revel in and celebrate literary excellence? Then buy this and become a richer person.
Published on Nov. 27 2001 by Gregory J. R. Bourke
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