Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Voltaire's Vine: 'tremendous vistas of thought'


The Daily Telegraph (UK) had a review of Voltaire's Vine and Other Philosophies over the weekend.

In a generous review, Iona McLaren criticises my brief "bumptious" language and occasional "alliterative sprees" (I'm aghast at accusations of alliteration), but overall welcomes the book's "tremendous vistas of thought." A sample:
Voltaire’s Vine, by drawing plausible connections between authors who are rarely compared, cuts a fresh cross-section through literary history. This is, in itself, a great pleasure. Moreover, Young’s generous background detail would make most of these essays an engaging (if idiosyncratic) general introduction to their subjects; in this regard, the chapters on Nikos Kazantzakis and Leonard Woolf (Virginia’s widower) merit particular praise. 
Young’s navigation of the denser philosophy is deft and often enlivened by quotation, for which he has an anthologist’s eye. It is a joy to read, for instance, Cyril Connolly on Orwell: “he could not blow his nose without moralising on conditions in the handkerchief industry”. The Rousseau chapter is particularly readable in this respect, with Isiah Berlin praising him as “the greatest militant lowbrow of history”, while his disgruntled patroness Madame d’Epinay had called him “a moral dwarf on stilts”.
(Photo: Stowe House, Phillip Halling/Wikipedia)

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