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A Little History of Literature

(Little History)

3.90  ·  Rating details ·  1,090 ratings  ·  168 reviews
This 'little history' takes on a very big subject: the glorious span of literature from Greek myth to graphic novels, from The Epic of Gilgamesh to Harry Potter. John Sutherland is perfectly suited to the task. He has researched, taught, and written on virtually every area of literature, and his infectious passion for books and reading has defined his own life. Now he ...more
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published November 5th 2013 by Yale University Press
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Feb 05, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is an enjoyable history of English Literature which consists of short essays on everything from early myths, through Shakespeare, the very first novels, poetry, Austen, Dickens, literature for (and about) children, the censorship of books and all the way up to today, with bestsellers, book prizes and reading groups being discussed.

Although this does not really give you a great deal of depth about any particular topic/author, it is a great introduction and very readable. A good starting
Disclaimer: Read via Netgalley.

I’m tempted just to give this a 4.5 rating simply because the line about the English Football team sent me into the zone of can’t stop cracking up. Fortunately, for non-football (you know, the REAL football) fans, this book has several other things going for it.

You might have heard of John Sutherland. He wrote those question books about literature, like Henry V War Criminal?. The books confront questions in literature and are well worth reading. This book is not
TS Chan
Sep 26, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Earlier this year, I was in London for work and had the fortunate pleasure of spending a couple of hours in the huge Waterstones bookstore in Piccadilly. One particular display which caught my eye was a series called "Little History", which encompassed topics such as The World, Philosophy, Science, Economics, Religion and the one which beckoned most to me, Literature.

Having spent a significant span of my reading life in the science fiction & fantasy genres, with the occasional venture into
Maureen Lo
Sep 15, 2015 rated it really liked it
A good intro for anyone who wants to know more about the beginning of literature right to the current status. Chapters are divided into various themes, from Greek myths to graphic novels.
Robert Sheard
Nov 14, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this in small segments over a number of weeks. I think it's a very good basic guide for the non-literature student to use as background for a history of literature in English. It's a bit British-centric, but given the early history of literature in English, that's to be expected. I look forward to picking up another "Little History" sometime.
Nov 03, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This was fun! Nice short essays on a wide range of literature. They were all good, but I particularly enjoyed the chapters on world literature and on literature prizes, both of which I know very little about and Sutherland gave me just the right level of detail. Even in areas where I'm not so ignorant -- the Romantic authors, Shakespeare, Dickens -- Sutherland's comments were interesting and I generally learned something new.
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jan 30, 2019 rated it it was ok
Okay, so first of all- it is by no means a history of Literature, it’s a story of English literature. There are nods to authors from other countries but only insofar as it fits into the Anglo-centric arc. And I’m not being militantly post-colonialist or anything- or, rather, I don’t need to be-even as a french, German or Italian (not to mention Russian, omg) you’d be pretty offended by the idea that this is a history of even Western lit. (A full chapter on Samuel Johnson, half a line on Zola, no ...more
For most thoughtful people, literature will play a big part in their lives. We learn a lot of things at home, at school, from friends, and from the mouths of people wiser and cleverer than ourselves. But many of the most valuable things we know come from the literature we have read. If we read well, we find ourselves in a conversational relationship with the most creative minds of our own time and of the past. Time spent reading literature is always time well spent. Let no one tell you ...more
Emilia Barnes
This book is, for all intents and purposes, absolutely pointless. It has no guiding theme or witty narrative, to walk you through the evolution of literature. It has no spark, no central question, nothing, in short, to move you to keep going and read on. If you know anything about literature, you know 80% of what is in this book, and the remainder is not presented in any way that is worth reading.

Throw in some jokes, and a couple of amusing illustrations, and sell it to children--then at least
Sep 27, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
For a while now I’ve been on the hunt for a book to refresh and feed my knowledge on the history of literature. I’ve been taught this obviously in school, but that’s a long time ago. So far, nothing quite delivered. Either it was too vague and superficial to teach me anything new, or it was way too detailed and felt like something I would actually have to study.
This book balances very nicely in between the two: I felt it gave me all the information I wanted to, without leaving me exhausted or
Jenny Boyce

This book is exactly what the title says – a little history of literature. The author touches on a little bit of everything involving literature and I found that I enjoyed the overviews that the author provides immensely.

The author does a fantastic time of mentioning everything involving literature, while avoiding spending too much time on one specific topic. This book is the perfect overview that gives the reader a lot of information yet allows the reader
Oct 05, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: my-reviews
A pleasant read.

This book reads like a series of reviews you could find on Goodreads, by someone who seems to know (and love) what he's talking about. It's the author's scholarly opinion on the author's selection of classics (he never strays too far away from those, which is understandable given the title) interspersed with tidbits of writer biographies and historical context.

The fact that he sometimes spoils endings and plots of books maybe should have been expected, but came as an unpleasant
Dec 12, 2015 rated it it was amazing
While far from comprehensive, I found this book to be a perfect refresher/overview of literary history. Superficial in some respects, but should be required reading at the high school level. It's like a 266-page Wiki; nice "chewable" chapters--I found myself looking forward to spending about 10 minutes a day with it. And I plan to reread or at least skim it once a year. Sutherland deals in broad fundamentals--but that's the point. Yes, there are gaps--but it's better than nothing and still ...more
Yuu Suwapee
Aug 14, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018
The cover and back cover (in Thai translated version) did not mention that this book is mainly discuss English literature.

Unfortunately, I did not have chance to read prologue before I bought it. (It's wrapped) I expected to read world literature as their unclearly cover neglect to specific "English" that significant to me.

I would not buy it if I know this book is 'A little History of "English" Literature'.
This book reminded me of all the things I love about studying literature. Very well written, totally engaging and funny. Mostly focused on England's literary canon, with a few nods to other literary traditions. It rekindled my fire for reading all of Jane Austen or Charles Dickens or Wallace Stegner. I guess should "and" instead of "or". Lifetime goals. I've got some time. I hope. I would like to take a class from John Sutherland.
Dec 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
I rather enjoyed the ARC I got of A Little of the United States, so I was curious about how A Little History of Literature might be. Happily, this book proved to be just as good, interesting, and informative as the earlier one. This seems to be every bit the series that I hoped it would be - full of fascinating tidbits while still offering a fairly comprehensive overview of the subject the book focuses on. They are indeed Little Histories, and offer a glimpse into the subject focused upon that ...more
Agatha St. Claire
Sep 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
A witty conversational recounting of literary history...easy to read, and made for a perfect "big picture" grasp of the canon. Sutherland did seem more passionate about ancient and Victorian literature and poetry; his tone felt almost caustic when it came to Plath and the other poets of the breakdown, but maybe I'm just reading in extra meaning. His optomism about the futute of literature did feel hollow...I can haedly agree that Beyoncé is "poetry." At the same time, I am now quite interested ...more
Sep 01, 2019 rated it liked it
The title should have specified that it is a little history of English literature and not even all Anglophone countries at that.

It is a rather comprehensive introduction to English (that is from England) and American literatures, but what about the rest? Reading about Hugo or Dostoevsky in a paragraph or two in a book about the history of Literature is ludicrous at best.

Besides that, there were some factual mistakes regarding the lives of the Romantics and the Brontës, maybe there were
Finn Mannerings
Jul 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
Fascinating for any lover of literature, adding contextual depth to all key periods. Does get a bit repetitive but it all comes from a deep adoration of literature and stories and gives great recommendations.
Donna Bijas
Nov 14, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own, 2019-tbr-12
Solid 4 stars. A primer so to speak on so many aspects of the printed word. Bottom line was this quote which embodies everything I read: “literature is something communal, a dialogue with greater minds than our own, a debate about our world, where is it going and where should it go.” Really enjoyed this one. What a great surprise.
Aug 23, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An delightful history of literature. Easy to read and understand.
Oct 28, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I received a review copy from NetGalley.

A Little History of Literature by John Sutherland is a guide to literature "from Gilgamesh to Harry Potter" for "young readers and the grown-ups in their lives." I liked this book and would have given it 4 stars, but I have a reservation about Sutherland's gratuitous political interjections (see below).

When I began this book I was worried that I might find it boring, after my many years studying literature and reading books. I was pleasantly surprised to
Sep 11, 2013 rated it really liked it
There are essays in which it soon becomes clear that the author is really a passionate about the argument and can not wait to take the opportunity to talk about it. This book is one of these cases, through a collection of arguments the journey in the literature, almost exclusively English-speaking though, is fascinating to the point of seeming almost alive.

Ci sono dei saggi in cui si capisce subito che l'autore é veramente un appassionato dell'argomento e che non vede l'ora di cogliere
Aug 22, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Less a conventional history than a set of interrelated short essays, this book has all the hallmarks of Professor Sutherland 's lectures ( available from The Teaching Company) - the essays are conversational, witty, clearly focused, and erudite. Even more remarkable is the fact that Professor Sutherland wears his erudition and scholarship lightly, and laces each essay with a self-deprecating humor and a refreshing lack of self-importance. One caveat - The book focuses predominantly on British ...more
Jan 02, 2014 rated it liked it
Author John Sutherland glides through 3,000 years of "the classics" in 40 short chapters. He writes in an easy, non-stuffy, way about why the great authors and works of literature are important. A few chapters are excurses into related areas like the development of publishing and copyright, children's literature, censorship, racism, adaptations, literary prizes and reading groups. There is even a chapter "Bestsellers and Potboilers" where he discusses guilty pleasures -- so it isn't all upper ...more
Sep 02, 2014 rated it really liked it
Very enjoyable overview of literature just as the title indicates. I've read many of the authors he mentioned but not all, so it was nice to be introduced to a couple that I'll now give a try. It was also interesting to be given a kind of timeline of how literary styles have changed and developed over the centuries. I try to read what are considered classics, but there isn't time for everything. This kind of made me want to be more discerning in my choices since there really is lots of great ...more
Sep 19, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-in-2013
*I received this book through Net Galley*

A Little History of Literature by John Sutherland is a whirlwind tour of a subject very near and dear to my heart. I majored in English Lit, so this book was a great review for me. I enjoyed revisiting some of my favorite authors and works, and learning about others I'm not familiar with. For those who have an interest in literature, this book is a great choice. It's readable while covering a vast amount of information.
Margaret Sankey
Aug 21, 2016 rated it liked it
Part of Yale's "Little History" series, this is a survey of literature (mostly English-language), showing the always evolving dynamics of author, context and audience, along with important developments like printing, theater, mass literacy, television and eReaders. This is not new information, but instead the carefully polished synthesis of Sutherland's long career teaching.
Jan 01, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2015
Not anything profound or groundbreaking, but straight forward overview of English literature with a handful of forays into non-English ventures. I hoped for something a little more, but this would have been perfect for me during my high school days.
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John Andrew Sutherland is an English lecturer, emeritus professor, newspaper columnist and author.

Now Emeritus Lord Northcliffe Professor of Modern English Literature at University College London, John Sutherland began his academic career after graduating from the University of Leicester as an assistant lecturer in Edinburgh in 1964. He specialises in Victorian fiction, 20th century literature,

Other books in the series

Little History (9 books)
  • A Little History of the World
  • A Little History of Philosophy
  • A Little History of Religion
  • A Little History of Science
  • A Little History of the United States
  • A Little History of Economics
  • A Little History of Archaeology
  • A Little Book of Language
“Хүн төрөлхтөний түүхийн ихэнх үед утга зохиол тансаг хэрэглээ байсан.” 1 likes
“Уншигч олон байх тусам илүү эрүүл нийгэм оршино.” 1 likes
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