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The Autocrat at the Breakfast Table

3.45  ·  Rating Details ·  125 Ratings  ·  18 Reviews
Excerpt from The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table: Every Man His Own Boswell
This book was written for a generation which knew nothing or next to nothing of war, and hardly dreamed of it; which felt as if invention must have exhausted itself in the miracles it had already wrought. To-day, in a small seaside village of a few hundred inhabitants, I see the graveyard flutterin
Paperback, 340 pages
Published November 1st 2005 by Cosimo Classics (first published 1857)
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Reading this was almost like watching a really long episode of Fraser with none of the supporting actors - intelligent, funny in places, but awfully long-winded.
Aug 16, 2007 Mark rated it it was ok
Another case of urging myself to tackle a classic author. Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. wrote these essays in the Atlantic in the 1830s and then packaged them into a book. The conceit is that a wise, garrulous denizen of a New England boarding house holds forth to fellow residents on various topics, including the advantages of old age, how to handle conversation, and other "right rules" for living. Enjoyable, but not earthshaking.
Aug 09, 2010 Ryan rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Holmes presents an aristocratic, learned man of letters who lectures the various guests at his breakfast table on matters of aesthetics, religion, poetry, science, the character of America and Boston, etc. Although the autocrat is not presented unproblematically (various minor characters take sly jabs at him throughout), his musings are generally given to be wise and widely-informed. It seems the autocrat is a mouthpiece for Holmes himself, who published this work in short installments in the Bo ...more
Jan 12, 2008 Michelle rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: classics
Unbelievably, I bought this because of the Mavis Beacon typing software. Many of the quotations in the lessons were drawn from this book. I enjoyed Holmes' musings.
Michael de Percy
This little book took me some time to read. At first, I thought I might write down some of the quotes from it, but soon I realised that each page had a memorable quote and I decided to leave the possibility that I will remember this book should any of the various quotes be needed again in the future. I daresay at this I shall fail but if I put it to memory that there are many important quotes in this work, I may well recover some of its hidden gems. I found Oliver Wendell Holmes to read like tha ...more
Kathy Wolfe
This selection of essays written by the father of Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes captures mid-19th century American thinking in Boston intellectual circles on a vast range of topics. Often quite witty and humorous (sometimes because the ideas are so out dated) but also dragging in other areas. Take each chapter on its own then take a break, just as the original essays were meant to be read, and you will have a better appreciation for the writing.
Jul 25, 2011 Kezia rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: literature
Hardly a classic but a nice jaunt into an American literary mind, with some wonderful nuggets and quotable quotes - although not enough to keep me interested. (It took me eons to finish.) I enjoyed the rhetorical devices, but it was nice to see some fragments of a plot develop toward the end. I have no brain for poetry, so can't comment on those portions.
Lisa Campbell
Mar 17, 2010 Lisa Campbell rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
So far, I enjoy the language of the times. This one is an 1860's edition so I am going carefully along (and trying not to sneeze from the mildew and dust which one can endure just to have a really old book in one's hands!)
William S.
I wanted to like this book, and did not. The style was utterly self-important and stifling. The only essay I really enjoyed is when Holmes talks of his love for canoeing, on the Charles River and its tributaries. This is the book that made him an international celebrity - but its time is past.

Skimmed. I think I could get a lot more out of this in a classroom setting - some books need a tour guide.
Nov 06, 2007 John rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A great piece of literary Americana! The good doctor/poet shares some entertaining idea and great insights (such as "The Chambered Nautilus).
David Gross
I got 3% into this and found myself thinking "isn't it over yet?" I'm skeptical that this was ever witty or interesting, but it sure isn't now.
Kest Schwartzman
hilarious. Clearly not something one picks up and reads all the way through- more something a person can pick up, read a paragraph, and put back down again.
1939 edition - Hardback. Unable to find ISGN No.
Avis Black
Oct 30, 2008 Avis Black rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
He's too ADD to stay on a topic long enough to make it interesting.
Jan 14, 2017 Adobe rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
In a year's worth of columns for the nascent Atlantic Monthly, an orator holds forth on shoes, ships, and sealing wax over a series of boarding-house breakfasts. His audience, among the clatter of silverware and tea cups, is alternately impressed and skeptical at his assertions.

The conceit of The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table -- conversational lectures delivered daily to the same audience of fellow lodgers -- is brilliant at unifying Holmes' discursive rants into something cohesive and almost
Aaron Gertler
I was hoping for an on-the-ground look at America's pre-Civil War intelligentsia, and... sort of got it. Certainly a dispatch from a different world. (It is amusing to imagine the author trying the same shtick in the lobby of a modern-day Four Seasons.) Quite a few interesting ideas, though I only wound up saving one quote for my commonplace book. The poems weren't especially good.

I finished a third of this, which was about the right amount. Not enough interest per page to get further.
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Nov 08, 2007
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Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. was a physician by profession but achieved fame as a writer; he was one of the best regarded American poets of the 19th century.

Although mainly known as a poet, Holmes wrote numerous medical treatises, essays, novels, memoirs and table-talk books.
More about Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr....

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“A man's mind is stretched by a new idea or sensation, and never shrinks back to its former dimensions.” 1459 likes
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