Whether he's on Broadway or at the movies, considering a new bestseller or revisiting a literary classic, Daniel Mendelsohn's judgments over the past fifteen years have provoked and dazzled with their deep erudition, disarming emotionality, and tart wit. Now How Beautiful It Is And How Easily It Can Be Broken reveals all at once the enormous stature of Mendelsohn's achievement and demonstrates why he is considered one of our greatest critics. Writing with a lively intelligence and arresting originality, he brings his distinctive combination of scholarly rigor and conversational ease to bear across eras, cultures, and genres, from Roman games to video games.
His interpretations of our most talked-about films from the work of Pedro Almodóvar to Brokeback Mountain, from United 93 and World Trade Center to 300, Marie Antoinette, and The Hours have sparked debate and changed the way we watch movies. Just as stunning and influential are his dispatches on theater and literature, from The Producers to Jeffrey Eugenides' Middlesex, from The Lovely Bones to the works of Harold Pinter. Together these thirty brilliant and engaging essays passionately articulate the themes that have made Daniel Mendelsohn a crucial voice in today's cultural conversation: the aesthetic and indeed political dangers of imposing contemporary attitudes on the great classics; the ruinous effect of sentimentality on the national consciousness in the post-9/11 world; the vital importance of the great literature of the past for a meaningful life in the present.
How Beautiful It Is And How Easily It Can Be Broken makes it clear that no other contemporary thinker is as engaged with as many aspects of our culture and its influences as Mendelsohn is, and no one practices the vanishing art of popular criticism with more acuity, humor, and feeling. \
When Daniel Mendelsohn was 13 years old, he read two Mary Renault novels about Alexander the Great, Fire from Heaven and The Persian Boy, and with that became enthralled with the ancient world. "I became a classicist because of Alexander the Great the romantic blend of the youthful hero, that Odyssean yearning, strange rites, and panoramic moments -- all spiced with a dash of polymorphous perversity which all the characters seemed to take in stride -- were too alluring to resist. From that moment on all I wanted was to know more about the Greeks," he recounts in "Alexander, the Movie!," one of 30 essays in his new collection, How Beautiful It Is and How Easily It Can Be Broken. Mendelsohn, whose critical essays appear frequently in the New York Review of Books, describes this book as "a collection of judgments," since critics, by definition, judge everything they review. "[A] word that you might not have suspected is even remotely related to 'critic' -- crisis, which in Greek means a separating, a power of distinguishing; a judgment, a means of judging; a trial. For what is a crisis, if not an event that forces us to distinguish between the crucial and the trivial, forces us to reveal our priorities, to apply the most rigorous criteria and judge things?" In this collection, Mendelsohn uses his classical knowledge to judge works in film, theater, fiction and poetry -- works as disparate as Philip Roth's Everyman and Oliver Stone's aforementioned biopic, which Mendelsohn skewers. "The reason it's exhausting, and ultimately boring, to sit through Alexander is that while it dutifully represents certain events from Alexander's childhood to his death, there's no drama -- no narrative arc, no shaping of events into a good story. They're just being ticked off a list." --Cameron Martin