John Sutherland’s ‘Little History’ tackles a very big subject: the glorious span of literature from Greek myth to graphic novels, from The Epic of Gilgamesh to Harry Potter. Sutherland introduces great classics in his own irresistible way, enlivening his offerings with humour as well as learning: Beowulf, Shakespeare, Don Quixote, the Romantics, Dickens, Moby Dick, The Waste Land, Woolf, 1984 and dozens of others. He adds to these a less-expected, personal selection of authors and works, including literature usually considered well below ‘serious attention’ – from the rude jests of Anglo-Saxon runes to The Da Vinci Code. With masterful digressions into various themes – censorship, narrative tricks, self-publishing, taste, creativity and madness – Sutherland demonstrates the full depth and intrigue of reading. Most of us encounter literature, in one form or another, at an early age. Stolen moments reading by torchlight when bedtime has long since passed are a familiar memory to many, and the relationships that are formed with these early books can last a lifetime. Just as we grow up, so our understanding of literature grows as well. In this video John Sutherland elaborates on the ethos and literary philosophy that informs his writing.
John Sutherland’s A Little History of Literature introduces great classics from across the ages: Beowulf, Shakespeare, Don Quixote, the Romantics, Dickens, Moby Dick, The Waste Land, Woolf, 1984 and dozens of others. These are works ancient and modern, all of which speak to us today. However, there is one year in particular that Sutherland sees as literature’s ‘most wonderful’, one year which arguably contributed more to our understanding of what literature can be than all the rest. In this extract from A Little History of Literature, Sutherland considers, amongst others, Virginia Woolf, T. S. Eliot and James Joyce, and explains why 1922 is the year that changed everything in literature.
“Of all the wonderful years in literature, 1922 qualifies as the most wonderful. It produced a bumper crop of books. But the reason for the year’s wonderfulness is not the quantity or variety of what was produced but the fact that what was produced but the fact that what was published in that year (and the years on either side) changed the reading public’s sense of what literature could be. The ‘climate’, as the poet W. H. Auden later put it, was altered. A new and dominant
John Sutherland’s ‘Little History’ tackles a very big subject: the glorious span of literature from Greek myth to graphic novels, from The Epic of Gilgamesh to Harry Potter. In this extract from the book, Sutherland addresses a fundamental question; what exactly is literature?
Most of us encounter literature, in one form or another, at an early age. Stolen moments reading by torchlight when bedtime has long since passed are a familiar memory to many, and the relationships that are formed with these early books can last a lifetime. Just as we grow up, so our understanding of literature grows as well. In this passage Sutherland pays particular attention to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis, demonstrating that the ‘fantasy’ world that exists in an author’s imagination might not be so far removed from our own reality.
Author John Sutherland signing copies of A Little History of Literature
“What, then, is literature? It’s a tricky question. The most satisfactory answer is found by looking at literature itself; most conveniently at the first printed works we come into contact with over the course of our lives – ‘Children’s Literature’ (written, one should note, for children, not by them). Most of
Books have always had the power to make authorities rather uncomfortable. Sometimes it’s because the novel makes the government look bad, goes against the teachings of a particular religion, or says things that are simply too salacious for conservative readers to stomach. In the newly released A Little History of Literature, John Sutherland, Lord Northcliffe Professor Emeritus of Modern English Literature at UCL, takes a look at how different societies around the world have reacted to the publication of such ‘dangerous’ books.
Yale University Press’ Little Histories collection is a family of books that takes a closer look at some of the most significant events, ideas, discoveries and people throughout history. As part of our ongoing coverage of the collection, here’s an excerpt from John Sutherland’s A Little History of Literature, a work that takes readers on a journey through both the classic and the lesser-known works of literature, from Greek myth to graphic novels.
‘At the creative edge, where great writers work,’ Sutherland writes, ‘there is always the professional hazard of incurring the wrath of those currently in power’. Indeed, we need only look at the long list of literary martyrs throughout history to see the truth
Yale University Press’ Little Histories collection is a family of books that take a closer look at some of the most significant events, ideas, discoveries and people throughout history. To celebrate the launch of the paperback edition of William Bynum’s “No one was as successful in pneumatic chemistry research as Joseph Priestley (1733- 1804). Priestley was remarkable. A clergyman, he wrote books on religion, education, politics and the history of electricity. He became a Unitarian, a member of a Protestant group that believed that Jesus was only a very great teacher, not the Son of God. Priestley was also a materialist, teaching that all the things of nature could be explained by the reactions of matter: there was no need for a ‘spirit’ or ‘soul’. During the early days of the French Revolution, which he supported, his house in Birmingham was burned down by people who feared that liberal religious and social views like his might bring revolution across the Channel. He fled to the United States, where he lived the last ten years of his life.
Priestley was also a very busy chemist. He used fixed air to make soda water, so remember him the next time you have a
Robert Boyle was fascinated by the world and he spent his life trying to explain why things are as they are. He was a chemist, physicist and inventor, and his work went on to be a major influence on the founder of modern chemistry, Isaac Newton. He was particularly interested in ‘air’. We’re all used to breathing, we’ve seen things on fire and noticed that if we exhale when it’s cold some sort of vapour emerges from our mouths. What’s going on? We’re surrounded by something that we can’t see, but what is it?
Yale University Press’ “‘Air’ is a very old word. The word ‘gas’ is much newer, only a few hundred years old, and the shift from air to gases was crucial. For the ancient Greeks, air was one of the four fundamental elements, just one ‘thing’. But Robert Boyle’s experiments in the seventeenth century had challenged this view, and scientists had come to realise that the air that surrounds us, and that we all breathe, is made up of more than one substance. From then on it was much easier to understand what was happening in many chemical experiments. Lots of experiments produced something that
History is rife with examples of persecuted scientists—think Rhazes, Galileo, and Servetus, for starters—but it would be a mistake to think that such injustice was limited to the early pages of our history. As recently as the 1950s, a great injustice was done to a brilliant mathematician whose wartime efforts had saved countless lives: Alan Turing. His reward for deciphering the messages encrypted by the German Enigma machine in World War II? Chemical castration—all because he was homosexual. Today, on what would have been the 101st birthday of the mathematician, we turn to William Bynum’s account of Turing’s life in A Little History of Science to remember this man’s achievements.
Yale University Press’ Little Histories collection is a family of books that takes a closer look at some of the most significant events, ideas, discoveries and people throughout history. As part of our ongoing coverage of the collection, here’s an excerpt from William Bynum’s A Little History of Science, a book that examines the scientific discoveries that radically altered our understanding of the world.
Turing was educated at Cambridge where, Bynum recalls, ‘his brilliance was recognised as a student there in the early 1930s’. During WWII, he worked at Bletchley Park, where he was
On this day in 1862, a momentous event in American history took place: Congress finally outlawed slavery in United States
Yale announces a brand new website for our Little History family of books, to celebrate our bestselling Little History of the World being selected to be part of World Book Night 2013.
World Book Night UK on April 23rd is a celebration of reading and books which sees tens of thousands of passionate volunteers gift specially chosen and printed books in their communities to share their love of reading.
April 23rd has long been a significant date for world literature, it is the birth and death day of William Shakespeare, as well as the day that the great Spanish novelist Cervantes died. It is in their honour that UNESCO appointed April 23rd international day of the book and the reason that this date was chosen for World Book Night.
The day selected for World Book Night has another layer of literary significance, it it also St George’s Day in both England and Catalonia. Historically, as a way of marking this event in the Catalan region of Spain, Catalan gentlemen gave ladies roses