The pleasures of reading book reviews

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I quit reading the New York Times Book Review, the New York Review of Books, and the Washington Post's Book World some years ago, because I got tired of reading tiresome left-wing bilge and long, indulgent reviews of the 19th volume of Virginia Woolf's diaries. I read the Times Literary Supplement instead, which is more politically balanced and whose recent editors, Ferdinand Mount and now Peter Stothard, have a gift for choosing fine reviewers. Case in point is the great historian of the British Navy N. A. M. Rodger, who in the September 23 issue reviews several books on Adm. Horatio Nelson issued this year, which is the 200th anniversary of his great victory at Trafalgar. Rodger starts off by dismissing previous biographies of Nelson:

A man who has already received roughly one biography for every year which has elapsed since his death is obviously in need of some more. This is not a cynical remark, for the Nelson biographical canon, though very large, is very unsatisfactory. The great majority of the lives were written from the same limited range of printed sources. Until recently there had been no work substantially based on manuscript evidence since Carola Oman's of 1947–and her attitude to references was distinctly casual for the daughter of an Oxford professor. All too many of the biographers belonged to one or both of two classes: those who knew nothing about naval warfare and those who knew nothing about anything else. Without exception, the wells of inspiration were poisoned by James Stanier Clarke and John McArthur's official biography of 1809, with its deadly combination of dishonesty and credulity: Their sententious anecdotes figure everywhere in the biographies and nowhere in the sources.

But read the whole thing:

Note to readers: I'm off on a long weekend and may not be blogging again until Tuesday.