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the Complete Review
the complete review - essays


No Passion Spent

George Steiner

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To purchase No Passion Spent

Title: No Passion Spent
Author: George Steiner
Genre: Novel
Written: 1978-95
Length: 419 pages
Availability: No Passion Spent - US
No Passion Spent - UK
No Passion Spent - Canada
Passions impunies - France
  • Essays 1978-1995

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Our Assessment:

A : excellent essays, a great reading pleasure

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian B 19/1/1996 Francis Spufford
New Statesman & Society . 5/1/1996 Guy Mannes-Abbott
The NY Times Book Rev. B 30/6/1996 David Bromwich
San Francisco Chronicle A 18/8/1996 Kenneth Baker
The Sewanee Review A Fall/1997 Lionel Basney
The Spectator . 13/1/1996 Philip Hensher
Times Ed. Supp. . 4/7/1997 Adam Lively
The Washington Post . 23/6/1996 Michael Dirda
World Lit. Today A Spring/1997 Hans Rudnick

  From the Reviews:
  • "(A) striking constant of these essays is his impatience and abbreviated curiosity about the world in which he lives." - Guy Mannes-Abbott, New Statesman & Society

  • "Steiner is beyond -- or above -- the American academic dust-ups about what the Western literary canon should or does encompass. No such issue matters when the activity of reading itself loses inner definition and the resonances of allusion and cultural memory." - Kenneth Baker, San Francisco Chronicle

  • "Steiner reads from text to cultural precedent to political result, in a dense mix of erudition and personal reflection, in an almost apocalyptic atmosphere of ultimate questions posed by historical catastrophe." - Lionel Basney, The Sewanee Review

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       To read George Steiner is almost always a great pleasure. These essays, reviews, forewords, and adapted lectures, written between 1978 and 1995, add to the fine collections of his work. Included here are a number of essays first printed in the literary journal Salmagundi, forewords to the new Everyman's editions of the Hebrew Bible, Kierkegaard, and Kafka's The Trial, and reviews for the TLS. The mix makes for an occasionally unfocussed collection -- which would be fine were it truly so, except that it does then revolve to heavily around certain recurring subjects, including a number of variations and considerations of two famous last meals, that of Socrates and that of Christ. Nevertheless, Steiner's considerations are always worthy, and it is fascinating to follow his thoughts and his well-read example on the subjects he tackles, be they dreams or religion or the many aspects of literature that have always fascinated him.
       Steiner is an intellectual beast, and while there is some emotion to his argument it is always a passion tempered by the intellect. There is nothing cold about his writing and his argument, the spirit of humanism shining -- radiating -- throughout. His concerns over the changing role of literacy in the world, and his critique of American culture and cultural values stands in stark contrast to the popular but somewhat whiny (and, by comparison, so much thinner) plaints of a Sven Birkerts, for example. The Archives of Eden, in which Steiner suggests that America's role is "that of custody" (re. culture in our times) is only one of the inspired thoughts presented in the collection. His analysis of What is Comparative Literature ? and his discourse on the idea of Absolute Tragedy are also marvelous analyses.
       The authors that are discussed -- Péguy, Simone Weil, Kafka, Kierkegaard, among others --are a somewhat unusual mix, and fit less well in the broader picture, though Steiner's thoughts are always of interest. Steiner is at his best when he takes us on longer excursions on matters close to his heart -- literature, in some form, first and foremost, but also all its variations, from the homage to the text and to the word, to the many questions of language that he has probed throughout his career. Religion is also an important subject, and here he perhaps offends in his reasoned approach (we hail it: there is passion beneath his argument, and it is not weighed down by the misleading blindness that mars the abilities of true believers).
       A particular point must be made regarding his writing. Steiner is a marvelous writer. His sentences are the height of elegance, each essay a work of subtle craftsmanship, any complexity a necessary one. Their is little affectation here, and the prose soars. Even those essays on subjects of no interest to us were captivating simply because they were so seductively presented.

       We prefer it when Steiner devotes himself to a single subject. Forewords, the odd literary review (even of the weighty TLS variety), are good and fine, but they are cast-offs, serving a smaller purpose. Nevertheless this is an immensely entertaining, beautifully written, thought-provoking book that deserves a large readership. Steiner's learned talk may, on occasion seem off-putting (he quotes and refers left and right, unceasingly, and those not familiar with his examples may find themselves adrift and annoyed), but we find it always worthwhile. A fine, fine book, highly recommended.

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No Passion Spent: Reviews: George Steiner: Other works by George Steiner under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       George Steiner, born in 1929, is one of the foremost intellectuals of our time. A professor at Cambridge and Geneva, he is the author of numerous books.

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