Washington Post Book World,

Classics for Pleasure

Michael Dirda, Author . Harcourt $25 (341p) ISBN 978-0-15-101251-0

In this casually brilliant collection of “great book” recommendations, Dirda, a Pulitzer Prize–winning critic for the Washington Post Book World, discusses titles ranging from well-known favorites such as Sherlock Holmes and Beowulf to more obscure writers such as Jaroslav Hasek and John Masefield. Dirda is a charming and exceedingly well-read host, erudite without slipping into pretension. He is more generous and less canonical than Harold Bloom, to whose work Dirda owes a debt in style and substance. The book creates a pleasurable but somewhat maddening sensation in the committed reader, who will be tempted to read most of Dirda's selections based on his brief summations. The complete works of Christopher Marlowe are summed up in five eventful pages, and Dirda makes Edward Gibbon's History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire sound so essential over the course of three pages that one forgets it would take the better part of a year to actually read. Dirda's greatest accomplishment, however, is rescuing many formerly illustrious masters from the dustbin of our culture's pitifully short memory: James Agee, G.K. Chesterton and Ernst Junger are just three who benefit from their inclusion in this indispensable volume. (Nov.)

Reviewed on: 08/20/2007
Release date: 11/01/2007
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