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A Little History of Poetry


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About the Author

John Carey is emeritus professor at Oxford. His books include The Essential Paradise Lost, What Good Are the Arts?, studies of Donne and Dickens, and a biography of William Golding. The Unexpected Professor, his memoir, was a Sunday Times best-seller.


"[The] book reviewer and Oxford don has great fun, galloping through 4,000 years of verse. Reputations are flayed and poetic gems are uncovered."-Robbie Millen and Andrew Holgate, The Times and Sunday Times, "Best Books of 2020"
"[A] fizzing, exhilarating book"-Sebastian Faulks, Sunday Times
"Carey's delightful survey never takes itself or its subject too seriously. 'Over the centuries countless thousands of poems have been forgotten,' he writes. 'This is a book about some that have not.'"-New York Times Book Review
"This characterfully compered mini-anthology would make a great guide for anyone just beginning to explore poetry, at any age."-David Sexton, Evening Standard
"Carey is a welcoming host, full of enthusiasm...He can throw sparkling light on a poet's method in a handful of words."-Craig Brown, Mail on Sunday
"Exhilarating"-Bel Mooney, Daily Mail

"[A] short but impressively comprehensive account of poetry"-Duncan Ferguson, The Herald

"[F]or more than 50 years, his taut, spry, flexible, idiomatic style has enabled [Carey] to engage a large non-specialist audience without, for the most part, stinting his deep infectious belief that literature is serious, and matters."-Leo Robson, New Statesman
"A Little History of Poetry succeeds...because it communicates Carey's love for a poet clearly and infectiously. It would be a dull reader who did not finish the chapter on Chaucer with an itch to reopen "The Miller's Tale", yes, but even Troilus and Criseyde as well."-Harry Cochrane, Times Literary Supplement
"A Little History of Poetry is delightful and succinct: 40 perceptive chapters in 295 pages, covering nearly 200 poets...Still, the book is a history - a history of poetry and the contexts in which it is embedded: personal, cultural, religious, social, linguistic, political."-Brian B. McClorry SJ, Thinking Faith [online journal]
"Does anyone know more about poetry than John Carey? Almost certainly not."-The Times, Best Books for Summer 2020

"[A] dazzling book...John Carey has been writing brilliant, eminently readable literary criticism for as long as most of us can remember."-Roger Alton, Daily Mail
"Chapters are enticingly short and compelling to read. Carey is immensely readable with so many poets' work and biography underpinned with illustrative personal stories and fascinating observations."-Word Matters [Journal]
"John Carey, the "Unexpected Professor", has done it again. From Homer to Heaney in 300 pages of crisp prose, apt quotation and illuminating judgement, he shows how poets have dealt with politics, race, religion, thought, landscape, history, memory and the movement of the human heart."-Piers Plowright, The Tablet
"Warm in tone, informative, generous in its sympathies, inviting in its choices, with a clear emphasis on human stories underpinning poetic achievement."-Emma Smith, author of This is Shakespeare
"This wonderfully positive and vivid history is a delight on every page ... Carey's sparkling Little History of Poetry is an astonishingly full introduction to English poetry from Beowulf to the present, set in a framework extending in place and time from Gilgamesh to Akhmatova and Seferis."-Bernard O'Donoghue, Winner of the Whitbread Poetry Award
"Here is an informative, fast-moving book ... Like Carey's previous works, it's forceful as well as clear, and it's populist, no-nonsense and anti-elite in its sympathies. Many people may find new favourites here."-Stephanie Burt, Professor of English, Harvard University
"Books about poetry are rarely page turners, but Carey's little history is gripping, is unputdownable! Reading this book and its galaxy of poets is like looking up at the sky and seeing the whole wheeling and constellated universe."-Daljit Nagra, author of Look We Have Coming to Dover!
"An elegant history of poetry, what it is, what it does, why it matters, written in an authoritative and engaging voice. Masterly."-Ruth Padel, author of 52 Ways of Looking at a Poem

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