Essayist and former editor of The American Scholar Epstein (In a Cardboard Box: Essays Personal, Literary, and Savage) assembles a stellar cast of 25 contemporary authors to explore how and when literary genius emerged from the pens of 25 classic English and American writers. In an introductory essay, Epstein observes that timelessness, grandeur of vision, and originality of outlook comprise genius in the writer. Writers ranging from Reynolds Price to Joseph Blotner explore the works of classic authors from Shakespeare to Hemingway, weaving together biography and literary analysis to reveal the nature of the particular writer's genius. Tom Shippey observes that Chaucer's genius ""lies in his unique ability to combine a clear and penetrating insight into human weaknesses with a warm and wide-ranging sympathy,"" while Reynolds Price argues that it is Milton's manipulation of words and phrases toward a larger end that demonstrates his literary power. Yet the rationale behind the selection of classic authors isn't as complete as it could be: where are Shelley, Coleridge, and Woolf, whose genius arguably rivals that of Joyce and Faulkner, who are included? Nevertheless, these essays shed light on the creative fires that burned in the minds of our most cherished writers.