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The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages Paperback – Sep 1 1995

3.7 out of 5 stars 51 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 560 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Books; First Riverhead Edition edition (Sept. 1 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1573225142
  • ISBN-13: 978-1573225144
  • Product Dimensions: 15.3 x 3.2 x 22.9 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 590 g
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars 51 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #170,314 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description

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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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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
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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Format: Paperback
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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Format: Paperback
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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By fblaw6 on Jan. 17 2000
Format: Paperback
Only Shakespeare here prevents 5 stars. But I was inclining to three stars as it seemed to me the professor had trouble organzing his brilliant scholarship into coherent paragraphs. But, midway through my comprehension improved, with essays on Wordsworth, and Austen, and then just a brilliant chapter on Emily Dickinson--near Shakespearean in language and thought, this author is brilliantly insightful with precise, profuse vocabulary--followed by equally nice chapters on Tolstoy and Freud. And so I respectfully differ with some reviews in criticism of the writing ability, which I believe on par with those the professor reviews. Thus, to me, the writing, the enormous IQ, memory and synthesis of material, scholarship and vast depth of insight are the good parts of the book. Though an unqualified judge, I believe the professor gets himself in trouble in the subjective part of the book, to wit his opinions of his subject matter, and the way he characterizes and interprets the canon, in my humble view, very narrowly. While I appreciate literature as an explanation of intellectual freedom, and I think I understand the professor's almost mystical "secular transcendence", it seems to me that this buzz is reached too much by a concentration in the literature of the weird, the strange, the bizarre and at times repulsive (Whitman and Proust). In defense of the author, he anticipates and contradicts every argument, and he, contrary to many reviews, supports everything (actually ad naseum if you read the whole book). The basic conclusions are convincing to the point of unassailability, and yet there is still a little wonder whether we are looking at literature here through a most narrow and obsessive prism. To me this book is a must read. It is overwhelming.
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