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

4.20  ·  Rating details ·  2,244 ratings  ·  119 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 January 1st 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
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. ...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
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
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:

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
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 h
Jun 05, 2009 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Writers
Recommended to K by: A Bennington Prof
Shelves: 1read_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
Daniela M
Feb 09, 2020 rated it it was ok
Read most of the essays, either while going through this very book or through my encounters with other collections. As is to be expected from a collection that attempts to cover such a range of periods and topics, some of them are good, others are not. I think there's many better choices that could've been made in terms of representing writing of authors such as Virginia Woolf or Adrienne Rich, but here we are. Many authors, particularly women writers, are missed out in the collection, and it cl ...more
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.
Jul 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing
To be fair, I did not read all of these essays. I read the intro and selected essays I was assigned for school, but this book is worth adding to your collection. The intro itself is a wonderful critical look at how the personal essay has developed over time, since the beginning of the common era to now. The book includes personal essays from some of your favorite authors who you might not have realized even wrote personal essays - Orwell, Fitzgerald, Woolf, Didion, etc. I loved it and will keep ...more
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: nonfiction, craft, essays
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. ...more
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.
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.
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.

J.W.D. 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. ...more
Sep 21, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: uc-berkeley
(3.6/5.0) Phil Lopate and his thoughts on writing are...unexceptional?
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
May 23, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfic
Read the entire fucking thing. I didn't set out to at first but I came to liking it quite a bit. There are some real gems in there and I was especially pleased to read, intersticed among some of my favorite authors, all of the essays from the Far East, as I have very little sense of that literary tradition.

My one substantial criticism is the inclusion of "On Some Verses of Vergil," one of the three Montaigne essays included in this collection. It was very long (some fifty grueling pages) and not
Jamie McCrory
Sep 30, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A compilation of some of the greatest essayists past and contemporary. Some not to my personal taste, but others are inspiring in their prose. Take as an example an extract from the essay, 'Knife' written by the literary clinician, Richard Selzer:

One holds the knife as one holds the bow of a cello or a tulip-by-the stem. Not palmed not gripped not grasped, but lightly, with the tips of the finger. The knife is not for pressing. It is for drawing across the field of skin. Like a slender fish, it
This wonderful volume, admirably assembled and introduced by Phillip Lopate, reveals how eloquent a private voice can be when its secrets are revealed on a public page. Progenitors of the modern form are here—Montaigne and Samuel Johnson, Joseph Addison and Richard Steele (founders of the eighteenth-century Spectator), the magnificent William Hazlitt, Charles Lamb—as well as a rich sampling of their most celebrated heirs: Robert Louis Stevenson and George Orwell and Virginia Woolf, Thoreau and M ...more
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
Lilith Horner
Jan 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This book helped me create my personal statement greatly!
I hope to find more books like this. As a student who is planning to go to university, it's important for me to be able to write a personal statement. I think people who may be struggling to make a personal statement should read this book to be able to achieve well. (100)
J.R. Fitzgerald
Nov 14, 2020 rated it really liked it
I read this back in college; if you are in college, maybe it can be worth your time. Only if the course ask for it. The essays are anthologized and many essays, old and new essays date very far back and new ones can be found in it. . .

Only if you are a student, you can enjoy this. Or, if you enjoy writing essays too. . . .Who knows?

J.R. Fitzgerald
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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

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