two-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
14-Jan-Feb-2005
user_rating: 
0

A-WhereShallWisdomIn his newest literary offering, Bloom poses a question from the Book of Job: "Where shall wisdom be found?" His answer: in classical literature and poetry. Paying homage to one of his sages, Dr. Samuel Johnson, Bloom whisks us through the Western canon, highlighting places where literary wisdom enhances our lives. He compares many of the greats: Cervantes and Shakespeare (whose nihilism helped define the poetic tradition), Nietzsche and Emerson (whose optimism trumps Nietzsche’s desperation), and Plato and Homer (full of wonder rather than reason). The Talmud defines wisdom the best. In the end, Bloom argues, "Wisdom literature teaches us to accept natural limits."
Riverhead. 304 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 1573222844

Providence Journal 4 of 5 Stars
"I admire him enormously, devour his work, disagree with various positions and poses, and marvel at his astounding range and intelligence. … As the self-proclaimed Samuel Johnson of his age, Bloom takes potshots at postmodernism and contemporary criticism, bemoans the loss of a humanist education, and worries that Stephen King will replace Proust (whom I hope to read some day)." Sam Coale

NY Times Book Review 3 of 5 Stars
"Arguably the most influential critic of the last quarter-century, Bloom has always written in a peculiarly mixed mode: at times he seems possessed, carried out of himself into a trance brought on by meditation on a work of literary art, but at other times he seems a self-conscious performer brandishing literary props in a performance that is all about him. … A critic who writes this well has a right to instruct us, even imperiously -- but the best thing about Harold Bloom is that he would be disappointed if we did not resist." Andrew Delbanco

San Francisco Chronicle 1.5 of 5 Stars
"Could any critic’s love of literature ever be less contagious than Harold Bloom’s? … At heart, Bloom reads like a high-culture Nick Hornby, more comfortable savoring and listing his favorites than laying out a case for them. Read him if you must, enjoy him if you can, but under no conditions give him as a gift, the way so many people do." David Kipen

Critical Summary

Bloom, who’s taught at both Yale and Harvard, has more than two dozen books to his name (Genius: A Mosaic of One Hundred Exemplary Creative Minds 2.5 of 5 Stars Jan/Feb 2003). He’s a true intellect, as famous for his work on classics as he is for his theory of literary history. Here he offers another highbrow exploration of our canon, this time from the perspective of having survived a life-threatening illness and looking to literature for solace. There’s no doubt that Bloom writes with conviction, panache, and great erudition, even if he never exactly defines wisdom. But not all readers will agree with his views. Was Whitman really a more comprehensive thinker than Plato? What happened to Chaucer or Milton? His extravagant, sweeping generalizations will leave some readers cold. Only the San Francisco Chronicle however, accuses Bloom of total pedantry and dullness. Whether you like his style or not, reading Wisdom is a humane, humbling experience.