George Steiner at The New Yorker, George Steiner, 2009
George Steiner died in February of this year, an amazingly erudite and productive scholar and polymath. This densely packed book comprises 31 of the more than 130 essays he contributed to The New Yorker between 1967 and 1997, primarily book reviews but as they always did for Steiner, the reviews expand to contain observations and commentary on the entire topic of the book being reviewed. Ranging from Bertrand Russell to Noam Chomsky, from Robert Maynard Hutchins, who was president of the University of Chicago when Steiner was an undergraduate, to Borges, Benjamin, and Brecht, these are superb essays about fascinating writers and topics. In an essay about chess, he focuses on one of my favorite writers and books, Nabokov’s The Luzhin Defense. Steiner was an amazing scholar. Saved from the Holocaust, a dominant theme in many of his works, by his father’s moving the family from Vienna, to Paris, to New York City always one step ahead of the Nazis, Steiner attended Harvard and was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford. His academic appointments ranged from the University of Geneva, to Harvard’s Norton Professor of Poetry, to Cambridge University, a truly world-wide scholar and commentator. This is a thought-provoking and engaging book for anyone who enjoys literary criticism. Steiner has strong views which he professes in clear and commanding language (keep a dictionary handy!). The joy of discovery I found in reading this book is why I pay homage to recently deceased authors by reading their work—becoming acquainted with this man and his work!