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The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages

3.86  ·  Rating details ·  2,651 ratings  ·  219 reviews
Literary critic Harold Bloom's The Western Canon is more than a required reading list—it is a vision. Infused with a love of learning, compelling in its arguments for a unifying written culture, it argues brilliantly against the politicization of literature and presents a guide to the great works of the western literary tradition and essential writers of the ages. The West ...more
Paperback, 546 pages
Published September 1st 1995 by Riverhead Books (first published August 31st 1994)
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Average rating 3.86  · 
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Paul Bryant
Feb 09, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: probably-never

GREAT LESSER KNOWN BOOKS BY WELL KNOWN AUTHORS

I think these are probably not in Mr Bloom's book, and I want to know why!


1. Ray Bradbury’s history of British sport Something Wicket This Way Comes
2. Charles Dickens novel on the ravages caused by tuberculosis, Great Expectorations
3. Dostoievski’s biography of George Bush, The Idiot (I prefer that one to Raymond Chandler’s The Big Creep)
4. Mary Shelley on the current crisis in capitalism Investment Bankenstein
5. Dickens again on the same topic Our M
...more
Lisa
There was an old critic called Harold Bloom,
Who thought Great Literature faced Final Doom,
He resented all Schools,
Other than his own Fools,
So killed what he loved, and emptied the Room!

My reading experience after finishing has not changed the overall impression, but it has made me think, and I took away the second star, which initially was awarded for writing style and erudition. Too much hatred, too much bias, and too much bigotry and repetition to get more than a solitary star for being a pri
...more
Darren
Feb 25, 2008 rated it did not like it
"The only spirit in 'Ulysses' is Shakespeare."
"In conversation with John Dryden, [Milton] once confessed rather too readily that Spenser was his 'Great Original,' a remark that I have come to understand as a defense against Shakespeare."
"Oedipus, I suggest, was hauled in by Freud and grafted onto Hamlet largely in order to cover up an obligation to Shakespeare."
"Except for Shakespeare, Chaucer is foremost among writers in the English language."
'Knowing more English would not have enlightened Tol
...more
Roy Lotz
Tradition is not only a handing-down or process of benign transmission; it is also a conflict between past genius and present aspiration, in which the prize is literary survival or canonical inclusion.

As far as I know, Harold Bloom is the last major proponent of the ‘Great Books’ paradigm of higher education. This makes him something of an apocalyptic prophet. With great solemnity, he predicted (this was in 1994) that the Western world was about to enter into a new cultural era, a new Theocr
...more
BAM The Bibliomaniac
Nov 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
5/7/20. UPDATE I have read about 400 from this list! I’m slowly getting there!

I. WILL. NEVER. READ. ALL. OF. THESE. BOOKS. EVER.

FAIL

“Who reads must choose, since there is literally not enough time to read everything, even if one does does nothing but read.” CHALLENGE ACCEPTED
BlackOxford
May 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: criticism
The Religion of Good Writing

Incomparable Bloom. Inspiring and informative in equal (and large) measure. Bloom's religion is literature; this is its originating text. Don't miss it.
 ~Geektastic~
Harold Bloom really is a cantankerous old thing, so hard to please and yet so seemingly pleased with himself. I actually enjoy reading Bloom, if only because I like arguing with him in my head. He makes plenty of good points in this massive exploration of Literature with a capital "L," but he also highlights many of the reasons the "dead white male" pantheon persists, and why he thinks it should. Many of his arguments are in complete opposition to the idea of diversity in literature that I hold ...more
Dan
Mar 19, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: literary folks
I finally had to read Bloom because he seems to irritate so many people. He is the torchbearer of literary aesthetics, or rather an aesthetic literary canon. He repeatedly denigrates and teases the contemporary schools of thought: feminism, new historicism, deconstructionism, etc. As such, mention of this book most frequently invokes a scoff, usually by someone who hasn’t read it. I urge you to. Bloom has read with extraordinary breadth and depth and seems to remember it all. I cannot vouch for ...more
James
Sep 10, 2011 rated it really liked it
One of the most useful works of non-fiction to be published in recent decades, written by the sturdy Yale professor Harold Bloom. Camille Paglia said that this work was as much about Bloom himself as it was about the "best that has been written"(one of many phrases that Bloom is quite of fond of using again and again), and this is certainty true, as the irascible scholar's personality comes through in every supple sentence. If there is a flaw in Bloom's work, it is repetition, as the reader is b ...more
Rob
Jul 07, 2010 rated it really liked it
Harold Bloom is like your ornery grandpa: he's very old-fashioned, and goes on uncomfortable rants about the blacks and the feminists a lot, but if you keep listening you realize that he has real wisdom and an experience that you can learn something from. You always complain about him when he's not around, but when he's gone*, you wish you had stayed in his world a little longer.

*This is referring to the end of the book, not Bloom's undoubtedly iminent death by rage-induced heart attack. What I
...more
Simone
Dec 13, 2011 rated it did not like it
In the (unlikely) event that literary theory again becomes relevant to mainstream society, or even mainstream academia for that matter, should there ever be a FOX News of theory, Harold Bloom would be the ideal candidate for the role of anchor.

The Western Canon is just so antiquated and conservative, in the very worst way. It's as if one's great-grandfather is lecturing from beyond the grave. For instance:

Finding myself now surrounded by professors of hip-hop; by clones of Gallic-Germanic theory
...more
Ian
Sep 20, 2013 rated it did not like it
Harold Bloom is one of the most well known literary critics in the US, and in my opinion an unfortunate national embarrassment. One problem with him is that he sees literature as a precise and objective science rather than an art. In Bloom's world, books and authors are not only objectively good or bad, but can be easily ranked from best to worst like runners in a race. For Bloom, there is only 1 possible interpretation of a work and that is what the author intended. If Cervantes was being truth ...more
Christy
Mar 10, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-2011
What's fascinating to me is that even though there is all the unfortunate blather and fulmination against his critical antagonists in the academy, most of whom appear to have completely ignored him, and there is also a lamentable amount of the Because I Say So school of argument, Harold Bloom, when he actually gets down to talking about the authors he loves and why he loves them, makes a certain amount of sense. He has what would have been called, in the era he should have lived in, good taste i ...more
Tim
Jan 19, 2008 rated it liked it
This book is half brilliant, a quarter nonsense, and a quarter defensible but repetitive and angry venting at deconstructionists, New Historicists, neo-Marxists, queer theorists, feminists, etc. Okay, art should be judged on its esthetic and conceptual merits and not as it accords with someone’s political or social agenda. Fair enough, and enough said already, Harold. He idolizes Shakespeare, and makes an almost convincing case for us to do the same. He’s incredibly well-read and knowledgeable, ...more
Gopi
Apr 28, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Reading literary criticism is like having a tour-guide to a book. And having someone passionate about the subject makes it that much more enjoyable. Prof. Bloom is an unabashed lover of literature with none of the disdain for "dead white male Europeans" that many academics have (he calls them the "school of resentment"). His passion for Western literature is so fierce that it is inspiring.

In the book, he walks us through the ages of literary history, pointing out great authors and great works. H
...more
Czarny Pies
Nov 19, 2019 rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: No one. This book's rendez-vous with destiny has come and gone.
Recommended to Czarny by: Everyone I knew. 20 years ago it was really hot.
At least one a week while reading the review of friends on GR I am reminded of books that I have read at some distant point in the past and then add them to my GR database. The Western Canon is the most recent title to fall into this category.

Despite my reservations it was great fun to read. I greatly enjoyed the parody of it in Episode 104 "The Graduate" of the Northen Exposure television series.

Nonetheless, this work has not aged well. It was written in protest to what Bloom believed to be wa
...more
Graham
Aug 17, 2018 rated it liked it
I was once told that it's not enough to just read the classics: one also has to read the essays and reviews written about the classics by those with minds broader than our own - the critics. It was good advice, I think. Those who have studied these books for most of their lives have a lot of value to add - they can illuminate historical context, author intent, author influences, and why the classics are important. I mean, these books and plays and poems have survived for centuries and every new ...more
Abby
Feb 02, 2015 rated it it was ok
What a blowhard!

Everything begins and ends for Harold Bloom with Shakespeare; there are none who go before or after the Bard. If you share this mantra, then you will enjoy The Western Canon. If you don’t, or if, like me, you are willing to concede that there may be other great writers along with Shakespeare, you may find it a bit hard to enjoy this. Bloom is an important critic, obviously, but he made me cranky. Some of the essays were more educational and insightful than others (I enjoyed his
...more
Elena
Jan 18, 2009 rated it really liked it
To some Harold Bloom might just be a pompous critic, but if I can have an ounce of literary knowledge that this man has in his brain, I would consider myself lucky. I admire Harold Bloom, which makes me a bit bias when reading any of his criticisms. Unfortunately, I cannot help to admire a man that has an extensive knowledge of literature. Literature is my passion and it is his unending passion to read and to celebrate the art and styles of literature, which I cannot overlook.

The School of Rese
...more
Boria Sax
Nov 13, 2012 rated it it was ok
Bloom offers an array of highly idiosyncratic opinions, which are often entertaining and sometimes quite insightful. But it is utterly pretentious of him to assume, as he constantly does, that he is the voice of Western culture. Despite the vastness of his learning and the intensity of his passion, his view of literature as a sort of competitive sport, if taken seriously, would render the culture he loves trivial, a bit like football or even pro-wrestling. If it is competition he wants, he could ...more
David Huff
Jan 30, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A life, focused like a laser on a single pursuit, can accomplish amazing things. Mozart with music, for instance, or Bobby Fischer in chess; Steve Jobs, Alexander the Great, Winston Churchill …. the examples are many and noteworthy.

Such was also the case, I’m convinced, with Professor Harold Bloom, a faculty member of the Yale English Department for 64 years, who taught his final class four days before he passed away last October at the age of 89. His passion for fine literature was lifelong and
...more
Ellis
DNF after a good 100 pages and the final chapter.

Wow, this is an ode to the preservation of cishet white male supremacy if ever I've seen one. It's almost hilarious how offended Bloom is by the allegation that the Western literary canon is made up of dead white European males. (Seriously, he's so outraged with that term. HOW DARE YOU, "FEMINISM, AFRICAN-AMERICAN CULTURISM, AND ALL THE OTHER POLITICALLY CORRECT ENTERPRISES OF OUR MOMENT" (p. 27). THAT'S JUST SO OFFENSIVE.) So he decides to fight
...more
Cheryl Kennedy
Harold Bloom died in October, 2019 at the age of 88. This book studies twenty-six writers. "I seek to isolate the qualities that made these authors canonical, that is, authoritative in our culture."

"We have for so long been educated by Harold Bloom that it comes as something of a surprise to realize all this time we were skimming the surface: he is our encyclopedist as well."
Richard Howard
Alejandro Teruel
Jun 05, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: crítica, e-libros
Exasperating, brilliant, outrageous, nonsensical, confusing, unintelligible. This is a book of provocations, to borrow, appropriate and distort a word from James Joyce, a shapesphere, that is a book so warped by Bloom´s deification of Shakespeare, so imbued with the Holy Spirit of Influence that sometimes it seems to imply that everything either leads up to Shakespeare or wrestles with or in his shadow.

Thus, he devotes most of his chapter on Tolstoy, not to War and Peace or even Anna Karenina bu
...more
Carol Storm
Oct 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Absolutely brilliant book -- more fun than four years at Columbia! The most rewarding passages were the discussion of Chaucer's Pardoner (and his links to Shakespearean villains like Iago) and the analysis of the comic epic DON QUIXOTE and its influence on the tragic epic MOBY DICK.

Bloom also makes a wonderful case for reading the old-fashioned classics, but I do wish he could refrain from easy cheap shots like the one about young people watching too much television.
Francisca
Dec 27, 2016 rated it liked it
I am torn between 3 and 2.5 stars.

On the one hand, Bloom's analysis can be almost enjoyable at times. "At times" being the key concept here. His chapters on Dante, Jonson and Dickinson are a thorough overlook into the works of great artists. He is a smart man who makes his readers feel smarter after some time. All fine with it. His chapter on Austen made me want to read all things related to Persuasion, including fanfiction all over again. I might as well do that actually--it's a great novel!

H
...more
Josh
Oct 26, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, 2012
This has basically been my literary bible for the past year or two. I'm not finished, but then I don't think I ever will be. It's introduced to to more good books than I can count and I'm sure it will continue to do so.

Bloom gets a lot of bad rap for being 'sexist' and 'racist', but I think those claims are dubious at best. He's just a man who thinks a book is more important than its author. If he values the dead-white-European-male, it's because dead-white-European-males were the best authors
...more
Aloha
Apr 27, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Terrific overview of the western canon

20 words or more? At work on lunch break. Great! Can't get enough of Harold Bloom.

20 words or more? At work on lunch break. Great! Can't get enough of Harold Bloom.

I.
May 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
Four stars
does not mean a complete agreement with Bloom (e.g. as regards multiculturalism),
or admiration of his opinions (for I would likely be one of the "uninformed sociologists" or "incompetent anthropologists" he mocks);
it is the immense work behind this book and his eloquence in argumenting.
This is Bloom's Western Canon, his view of the aesthetic as the paramount virtue and decisive determiner in cataloging all literature. Read this and find your standing. Maybe you'll scrib down some autho
...more
General Kutuzov
Dec 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
Coming in at 98 in my “year of 100”- an absurd but educational experiment in reading one hundred books in 2019- is this almost thirty year old text by the late Harold Bloom. Its scope is vast. Bloom’s aesthetic judgments are too many to count, and thus nearly every reader will find something here not to like. Bloom also has his blind spots. He is obviously anti-Christian, and treats disbelief as something bold and heroic, and of course it is neither.

But on two things Bloom is absolutely right:
...more
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Harold Bloom was an American literary critic and the Sterling Professor of Humanities at Yale University. Since the publication of his first book in 1959, Bloom has written more than forty books of literary criticism, several books discussing religion, and one novel. He edited hundreds of anthologies.

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