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The Art of the Personal Essay: An Anthology from the Classical Era to the Present

4.19  ·  Rating details ·  2,064 Ratings  ·  108 Reviews
For more than four hundred years, the personal essay has been one of the richest and most vibrant of all literary forms. Distinguished from the  detached formal essay by its friendly, conversational tone, its loose structure, and its drive toward candor and self-disclosure, the personal essay seizes on the minutiae of daily life-vanities, fashions, foibles, oddballs, seaso ...more
Paperback, 777 pages
Published January 15th 1997 by Anchor (first published 1994)
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Aug 17, 2012 rated it did not like it
I need to make a separate shelf for this book titled, "kill-me-now," because really, the best way to offer someone a slow and painful death is to make them read this. I was forced to read this for class and write up summaries and analysis' for practically all the essays, in addition to taking a test and writing an essay on these essays for my classes, so I did not have fun reading this. It's boring, it's long, and 99.9% of the essays in this are boring. I guess if you like reading personal ess ...more
Feb 07, 2008 rated it really liked it
My favorite essay in this thick, heavy, door-stopping book is a humble writing of G.K. Chesterton entitled "A Piece of Chalk". I absolutely adore drawing with chalk and so of course I felt connected to him right off the bat. It was actually the first time I'd ever read Chesterton before, and I instantly fell in love. There is something in his writing that resonates with something inside me... in other words, it feels good. This anthology also includes other masters, both classic and modern such ...more
So many great essays in this anthology that it would be worthy for that reason alone, but Lopate's organizational principles make this especially useful for the essayist in search of models, or for the reader who is chasing the many forms of a specific type of essay, or for anyone who enjoys reading personal nonfiction. I never fail to feel a buzz of anticipatory joy when I pick this volume up, and writing out this Goodreads note makes me realize that I really should dip back into this soon.
Feb 15, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Lopate's introduction alone is worth the price of admission to this house of wonders. Anyone at all interested in writing essays must read it. As for the essays themselves, some are more riveting/amusing/touching than others. My favorites: Seneca on Asthma; Virginia Woolf on "Street Haunting" and "Death of a Moth"; George Orwell's hair-raising account of prep school English-style, "Such, Such Were the Days; Richard Selzer's "The Knife" (don't read this if you have surgery scheduled); Didion's "G ...more
Rachel Rueckert
Mar 23, 2011 rated it it was amazing
As I have been working on some of my own personal essays from my travels in India, this was like my Bible. I'm just going to attach some of my responses on the form and content of selected essays. It can be daunting to try and sift through the entire anthology, so I hope this can help someone:

Consolation to His Wife by Plutarch


It is kind of refreshing to find a guy who “atypically for his age, saw marriage as the closet of human bonds” (16). It is clear as we read this that he admires h
Jan 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This collection of essays warrants several readings. Phillip Lopate, a distinguished essayist and brother of Leonard Lopate, NPR commentator on New York City's WNYC, presents a sizable and articulate Introduction of what makes an essay 'personal'. He examines the process of crafting the personal essay by dedicating digestible segments under headings such as "The Conversational Element", "Honesty, Confession, and Privacy", and "Questions of Form and Style." This book is as much of a resource as i ...more
Mar 22, 2010 added it
Shelves: read-in-2010
I read four essays from this book every week, and picked one to write about. The final list, with links to individual essay reviews:

Jun 05, 2009 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Writers
Recommended to Karen by: A Bennington Prof
Shelves: read_chunks_of
I always come back to this anthology for Robert Louis Stevenson's "The Lantern Bearers," probably one of my favorite pieces of all time, by one of my favorite authors. The quote below isn't inspirational or aphoristic, but when I think of my favorite quotes, this paragraph rings out. Read aloud, its words and rhythm (say "top-coat buttoned") are beautiful on their own, but as far as the sentiment underpinning it, I could almost take it as a manifesto:

"But the talk, at any rate, was but a condime
Daniel Taylor
For countless years, I salivated at the sight of this book. I'm glad the experience of reading it has been every bit as good as my anticipation.

If you want to write personal essays -- a long-time aspiration of mine -- then this book is a must-read.

But anyone who loves reading some of the best writing in the world on a crossing a range of disciplines and topics, then this book is worth the effort.
Apr 28, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: essays
Although I’ve been a fan of the personal essay for many years, I put off reading this collection for a long time because of its 771-page length. Still, the time to dive in finally arrived in late April and two months later (reading shorter novels in between) all I can say is wow! I’m so glad I took the time to read every page.

Editor Phillip Lopate has put together an amazing collection for fans of the personal essay. His forward is lengthy, but insightful, and he provides a good definition of th
Joy H.
Aug 21, 2013 marked it as read-partially
Shelves: essays, own
Added 8/21/13.

Nina of my GR group had recommended this book: The Art of the Personal Essay: An Anthology from the Classical Era to the Present. So I borrowed it from our local library. It's quite a tome! Some of the essays are excellent and others don't appeal to me, but it has a wonderfully varied list of selections written during the "last four centuries". The reader is bound to find at least some of the essays quite interesting.

The multiple tables of contents are arranged in different ways, o
Titus Hjelm
Jul 29, 2011 rated it really liked it
It's a BIG book that took me quite while to finish, but worth all the effort. The contemporary American essays were my favourites, mostly because I'm very much into the social criticism/observation genre represented by people like McCarthy, Baldwin, Vidal, Lopate and Rodriguez. Also, some of the essays, especially Montaigne's pieces, suffered in translation. I'm not a native speaker, but still I could tell that the flow of the text wasn't as good as it could have been. Can't wait to compare this ...more
Aug 16, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: essays, nonfiction, craft
The Art of the Personal Essay is an amazing collection of nonfiction essays that spans hundreds of years. It offers the cityscape that is the development of Creative Nonfiction. Whilst I was engrossed in each essay, I confess the power of the text becomes lost if one tries to read it as a whole (or assignment). I find myself returning to the essays contained there often; opening the book and simply being drawn into a world in miniature, perhaps Virginia Woolf, or Richard Rodriguez, or some ancie ...more
Gideon Burton
May 24, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
As anthologies go, Phillip Lopate's collection of personal essays is more than apt. He introduces this important genre of contemporary creative nonfiction, and gives to us the ancestry of the form by reaching back into history to find the beginnings and antecedents to modern essay writing. While I have not read every essay in this volume, I don't think is intended to be read cover to cover. It is just right: a large enough set to have true variety in the selection, but not daunting. It is slight ...more
Jun 28, 2012 rated it really liked it
Finished reading "Art of the Personal Essay" complied by Phillip Lopate for school and I enjoyed learning about the development of the personal essay from Ancient Rome to present day. While at times, the language can get tough and the metaphors a bit cmplicated to understand, any true bibliophile and writer should pick up this book at least once. The essays contained within are gems of literature and its writers are brilliant minds that still have much to teach us, even from beyond the grave.
Apr 10, 2012 rated it really liked it
I read this because it was assigned as a summer assignment for my English class. I'm glad that I did because this book contains some of the best essays and it's organized in a clear format. It's easy to search for models for essays. My favorite essays in this book are the ones by G.K Chesterton however.

Jan 17, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This is an incredible anthology of personal essays by the masters, from the Classical Era to the Present. It features Seneca, Michel De Montaigne, Charles Lamb, William Hazlitt, G.K. Chesterton, V. Woolf, Thoreau, H.L. Mencken, E.B. White, Adrienne Rich, Wendell Berry, Anne Dillard and many, many more.
It is a must for any personal library collection. I intend to make it part of mine own.
Meghan McAfee
Aug 07, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This book is all encompassing, an anthology worth its weight--which is about two pounds.

From the father of the personal essay, Michel de Montaigne to one of the best representatives of contemporary, "New Journalism", Joan Didion The Art of the Personal Essay truly has it all. Whether you're a student of nonfiction or merely an admirer, this book needs to be in your collection.
J.W. Dionysius Nicolello
Dec 15, 2013 rated it really liked it
Amazing find at the used bookstore, brand new, for three bucks. I'd never dabbled in this collection and the lineup is solid and really well-rounded. A good one to have handy for life. Also introduced me to Lopate, whom I'd never heard of. Looking to forward to picking up some of his books.
Erin O'Neill
Mar 24, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
This is one of my all-time favorite anthologies of essays...a must-read, many times over
Dec 20, 2015 rated it liked it
This is a giant collection of personal essay’s spanning a couple thousand years. These essays are very diverse; so it is logical that a reader will find some among them they love better than others. And yet, the beauty of this collection is its diversity. These essays quickly introduce one to a myriad of personalities, to which a reader might otherwise never be exposed.

A few of the essays that I liked best:

Scipio’s Villa by Seneca, which explains how ostentatious displays deteriorate our hum
Mar 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: dnf, textbooks
Did not finish, but highly recommend.

I was assigned a few of the essays in this particular anthology to read and study in a recent course. When I realized how much I enjoy the personal essay genre, I went ahead and read about half the anthology. I recommend those by the following authors:

- Seneca
- Plutarch
- Michel de Montaigne
- Samuel Johnson
- Charles Lamb
- Robert Louis Stevenson
- Max Beerbohm
- G.K. Chesterton
- Virginia Woolf
- James Thurber
- F. Scott Fitzgerald
- E.B. White
- Hoagland
- Wendell Ber
Núria Costa
Nov 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Two years with the finest words. I'd start it again.
Ted Strykr
Mar 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Loved reading Kenko, Woolf, Didion, Orwell, White, Thoreau, Fitzgerald, and so many more. really a great introduction to personal writing.
Squid Peanuts
Jun 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Nice collection of well written essays.
Cindy Marsch
Dec 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 4-star-reviews
I have not read the entire collection here, but I've found it very useful for a college composition class this semester. Students really engage with the authentic voices of the authors, and the personal genre allows for the sharing of perspectives without the formal agenda of polemic. In particular, we've made use of Baldwin's "Notes of a Native Son," Borges's "Blindness," Sanders's "Under the Influence," and Hazlitt's exploration of the pleasures of hate. Students have used these as the core es ...more
I picked up this book again to read an essay by Walter Benjamin entitled "Unpacking My Library," which had been recommended to me. Unfortunately, his meditation on the collecting, purchasing, and owning of books is pretty pretentious and inadvertently classist. His only valuable insight in this essay, in my opinion, is about the nature of childhood: "I am not exaggerating when I say that to a true collector the acquisition of an old book is its rebirth. This is the childlike element which in a c ...more
Feb 04, 2008 rated it it was amazing
The Art of the Personal Essay is the definite collection of non-fiction writing. Phillip Lopate has put together an engaging collection. Any writer, or reader, interested in getting a good taste of, shall we say, "traditional" non-fiction, should give this anthology a try. I highly recommend Lopate's introduction on the elements of the personal essay, as well as solid work by Woolf, Didion, Johnson, Borges, Rodriguez, Orwell, White, Thoreau, Dillard, Rich... and even the "fountainheads" such as ...more
R.A. Schneider
Apr 24, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Assigned this book as "homework" for a writer's workshop I'll be attending in July 2016, I am happy with it on all levels.
First, it is readable. By that, I mean it is not like "homework"!
Second, the scope of styles upon which the author elaborates is broad. No matter how you envision YOUR personal essay, I imagine you will find a close analog in an example here, and that will help you immensely.
Third, it was heartening to hear a trusted teacher in the field suggesting some techniques that I h
May 28, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: non-fiction readers and writers
Shelves: non-fiction, essays
This well-edited collection is a fantastic introduction to the personal essay, a form of which I am incredibly fond. The authors and their work vary widely in style and content and anyone looking to learn to write a solid and moving personal essay (college applicants perhaps?) would do well to read it. Though I wouldn't suggest reading it cover to cover (though I did), I would suggest picking it up and reading not only the familar writers (Woolf, Stevenson), but some of the less familar ones as ...more
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Phillip Lopate is the author of three personal essay collections, two novels, two poetry collections, a memoir of his teaching experiences, and a collection of his movie criticism. He has edited the following anthologies, and his essays, fiction, poetry, film and architectural criticism have appeared in The Best American Short Stories, The Best American Essays, The Paris Review, Harper's, Vogue, E ...more
More about Phillip Lopate

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“Of all the ways of acquiring books, writing them oneself is regarded as the most praiseworthy method.

— Walter Benjamin, "Unpacking My Library”
“A young person still thinks it is possible–there is time enough–to become all things: athlete and aesthete, soldier and pacifist, anchorite and debauchee.” 1 likes
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