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A Literary Education and Other Essays

Who invented the personal essay? That is hard to say. The ancient Roman philosopher and cynical power broker, Seneca? The 16th century French philosopher Montaigne certainly brought it to a peak of perfection. There were many 19th century masters, not so many after that. Who is the greatest living essayist writing in English? That requires no debate at all. It is unquestionably Joseph Epstein. He is not only the best living essayist; he is right up there in the company of Seneca and Montaigne, but one of our own, living in our era and dealing with our pleasures and travails. Epstein is penetrating. He is witty. He has a magic touch with words, that hard to define but immediately recognizable quality called style. Above all, he is impossible to put down. Epstein reads omnivorously and brings us the best of what he reads, passages that we would never have found on our own. How easy it is today, in the digital age, drowning in emails and other ephemera, to forget the simple delight of reading for no intended purpose. Like any master essayist, however, this one brings us more than the shared experience of a lifetime of reading. He brings us himself, alternately scolding and charming, sparkling and deep, buoyant and sad, zany and wise, rebellious and conservative, bookworm and sports fan, clever and everyman, debunker and preservationist, deep into high culture, deep into low culture, curious, fresh, and settled in his ways. This is the friend we all wish we could have, the ideal, humane companion who is completely comfortable in his own human skin. Like Plutarch, he gives us life teaching by example, but with a wry smile and such a sure hand that we hardly notice the instruction. It is pure pleasure.
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About the Author

Joseph Epstein was editor of the American Scholar. A long time resident of Chicago, he has taught English and writing at Northwestern for many years. He is the author of 23 books, many of them collections of essays, and has also written for numerous magazines including The New Yorker, the Atlantic, and Commentary.


Epstein follows up Essays in Biography (2012) with another collection of provocative and beguiling thought pieces. The range of his curiosity is exhilarating. Publishers Weekly, March 31, 2014 [In A Literary Education] prolific essayist, biographer, and novelist Epstein ... delivers ... lots of erudition ... and ... fun. Kirkus, April 1, 2014 [Epstein] writes sentences you want to remember... His essays are troves of literary reference and allusion, maps between centuries, countries, genres... [They] have personality and style, yes, but they also have something to say, and that's the pivotal distinction between Epstein and his bevy of imitators... What's more, his wit is unkillable. -- William Giraldi The New Criterion, May 1, 2014 ... Maybe it's time for a 'Joseph Epstein Reader' that would assemble the best work from his previous books for old and new fans alike. In the meantime, A Literary Education inspires hope that Mr. Epstein's good run [referring to the author's 24 books] isn't over just yet. -- Danny Heitman The Wall Street Journal, June 17, 2014 Epstein's ... A Literary Education and Other Essays ... is his 24th book. This volume confirms that Epstein is not only the greatest living American literary critic, but also the country's foremost general essayist. He is, almost singlehandedly, holding aloft the flame for what used to be the honorable calling of 'the man of letters.' -- John Podhoretz COMMENTARY, June 2014 Joseph Epstein turns out the best essays-of the literary or familiar kind-of any writer on active duty today... Those who've reviewed Epstein's work over the years ... praise his humor, his erudition, his vast learning, and his elegance... Epstein's writing, like most French desserts, is very rich stuff. -- Larry Thornberry The American Spectator, June 2014

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