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Waiting for the Barbarians: Essays from the Classics to Pop Culture

3.93 of 5 stars 3.93  ·  rating details  ·  137 ratings  ·  20 reviews
Over the past decade and a half, Daniel Mendelsohn’s reviews forThe New York Review of Books,The New Yorker, andThe New York Times Book Reviewhave earned him a reputation as “one of the greatest critics of our time” (Poets&Writers). InWaiting for the Barbarians, he brings together twenty-four of his recent essays—each one glinting with “verve and sparkle,” “acumen and ...more
Hardcover, 423 pages
Published October 16th 2012 by New York Review Books (first published January 1st 2012)
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Dec 12, 2012 Terence rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Lovers of perceptive criticism
Daniel Mendelsohn’s choice of title in this collection of essays is not meant to convey a sense of impending doom as is usually associated with the phrase “waiting for the barbarians.” Rather, he wants to suggest its meaning in C.P. Cavafy’s original: The barbarians are awaited with a sense of hope; they offer welcome change and the possibility of renewal.

“Why this sudden restlessness, this confusion?
(How serious people’s faces have become.)
Why are the streets and squares emptying so rapidly, ev
You will know Mr. Mendelsohn from essays that have appeared frequently over the years in The New York Review of Books, The New Yorker and The New York Times. Here are twenty-four of the more recent works split into four categories: Spectacles, Classica, Creative Writing and Private Lives. His subjects run the gamut, from Julie Taymor's Broadway production of Spider-Man to the television series Mad Men, Herodotus to Horace; Stendhal, Rimbaud, Noel Coward, Susan Sontag...all with delightful detour ...more
March 22, 2014

To say I enjoyed this book does not capture my experience with it. I struggled, I laughed, I ruminated, I was awakened. I wrote something about this book earlier (below) which cannot be graced with the title “review,” but I have decided to add to it since I wrote that before I finished the book, and now I have. After reading several of Mendelsohn’s essays, I found my taste for and understanding of his writing improving, and I read avidly on to see what he would say about the work o
Daniel Mendelsohn is my new intellectual crush. I picked this up from a "New Books" display at work, my attention caught by the scowling hoplite on the cover, the comic-book graphics, and the promise of 'essays from the classics to pop culture.' After I looked inside, I realized that I'd been reading Mendelsohn with pleasure in the New Yorker (including the essay on Herodotus included here) for some time. I gobbled up the classics essays on offer in Waiting for the Barbarians like candy. Only on ...more
(5 stars for the classical section, 3 stars for the final 2, averaging out to 4 stars overall rating) A reader's enjoyment of this collection of essays is really going to depend on his or her set of pre-established interests. Mendelsohn's writing is sharp and his thinking incisive, but I found my interest tapering off in the last two sections (reviews of contemporary fiction and memoirs). However, I positively really enjoyed the first section on modern day "Spectacles," i.e. theatrical productio ...more
i feel like i've expressed my wish to be a number of different literary figures at some point or another, but when you—or i guess when i—get right down to it, and keep in mind my actual interests & predilections, there is no one i want to be when i grow up more than daniel mendelsohn, really, who is perfect. everything about his career is everything i want (except for the teaching at Bard part, i could never teach, which doesn't really bode well). i'm having a hard time articulating just how ...more
Just finished Daniel Mendelsohn's collection of essays Waiting for the Barbarians. Mendelsohn is one of those writers who is able to tackle almost any topic and make it interesting, even classical studies. The book brings together Mendelsohn's critical reviews and short pieces he has written over the years for assorted journals and magazines and collects them sorting them into four sections; Spectacles, Classics, Creative Writing and Private Lives. His piece on the memoir craze "But Enough Abou ...more
Howard Cincotta
There may be more important literary and cultural critics out there, but none who are better or more insightful writers than Daniel Mendelsohn, whether commenting on the curious emptiness at the center of Mad Men, why the Titanic has never let go of the public imagination, or the illusive authorship of the Iliad.

Waiting for the Barbarians, from the best-known poem of modern 20th-century Greek poet Constantine Cavafy, was perhaps my most enjoyable reading experience, at least intellectually, of
Hank Stuever
An immersive experience for people who try to write intelligent cultural criticism (that includes me) as well as those who enjoy reading it. For popular culture fans, there's plenty here to think about; the middle section of essays on classics will be a chore, but a worthy one. It's difficult to quibble, since Daniel Mendelsohn could write circles around most of us, but I'm not sure every piece here was meant to live between hardcovers. Some of the insights he lands on are eloquently demonstrate ...more
Eloise Von woolfe
Well-crafted, contemplative, insightful. Slightly weak in bridging some essays from academia/specialist to culturally educated/intellectual layperson. Would that all readers were lit majors...but some major gems for all, esp. on visual culture (tv, film).
Ivan Mulcahy
Mendelsohn's opening essay here is a review of Avatar. I didn't like the film, though I loved most of director James Cameron's other big budget festivals of relentless technology - Terminator, Aliens, The Abyss. I didn't like Avatar more after reading Mendelsohn. What I did feel was confidence and enthusiasm for Mendelsohn as a critic. I want to hear this man. He is so intelligent yet clear, honest in his enthusiasm and so perceptive in his analysis. Informed but unpretentious. Similarly, in the ...more
An amazing array of essays that cover the classics to pop culture (ok that sentence was a bit of a rip-off from the back cover!) But it's true!! Not only is there a great breadth of topics but Mendelsohn treats them beautifully with his own vast knowledge and wit. Some of the essays concerning the classics such as Sappho were a little over my head but Mendelsohn made them enjoyable with great background writing. It was also fascinating to read his treatment of more modern culture such as James C ...more
Somewhere around .5 of a star here is based solely on the essay about Oscar Wilde the baby classicist, FYI.

As a rule, when Mendelsohn is talking about something I care about, even a little bit, I am blown away by his insight. If not, he can be pretty hit or miss. This book contained two essays that took my breath away, some solid points about things I already cared about, a few essays that drew my interest to new subjects, and only one that I will actively avoid ever reading again.
Another excellent collection of critical essays. Mendelsohn's range is remarkable, both in the sense of the breadth of what he considers (Mad Men, Avatar, Noel Coward, Susan Sontag, Philip Glass, the Iliad) as well as his ability to genuinely treat all of these things as worthy of serious critical attention— and to find something genuinely worth talking about in all of them.
Stephen Simcock
I never tire of reading Daniel's criticism. Calling it criticism seems almost a disservice, and a term like cultural commentary seems more descriptive. Whether explaining the relevance of classicism to contemporary dilemmas, unearthing nuanced subtexts in popular culture, or contextualizing classics, his writing never fails to delight and enlighten.
Peter Mcloughlin
Pretty good collection of literary reviews of good authors mostly that I haven't read but may some day. I will look smart at a cocktail party by dropping some of the references. I liked the pop culture reviews as well. The author writes well and can hold the readers interest. A good read and impress your friends with your literary knowledge.
Mary Beth
Although some of the essays cover intimidatingly arcane subject matter, Mendelsohn's exquisitely thoughtful prose is always worthwhile. His examinations of such varied topics as memoirs, Oscar Wilde, Arthur Rimbaud, Mad Men, and especially Julie Taymor's Spider-Man by way of Ovid inspire bracingly fresh reconsideration.
The essays about classics were over my head for the most part, but I enjoyed the essays on recent literature and pop culture. Mendelsohn says Jonathan Franzen writes with "a kind of political and aesthetic autism. . . . every landscape is a landfill, every season is rainy"; Susan Sontag was "bristling with epigrams."
Jim Wayland
Great stuff. I'd read some of the essays herein when they were originally published (like the Titanic piece in The New Yorker, for example) and loved them. Nice to see a collection of his writing. I'm gonna look up his other collection of essays.
Dec 19, 2012 Tuck rated it 5 of 5 stars
Shelves: essays
no, gr ate my review. i bet mendlsohn never has to say that.
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