Our friend and contributor Joseph Epstein once called himself a “serious dilettante,” which he defined as “someone who feels he needs to know nearly everything, but not all that much of any one thing in particular and certainly nothing in the kind of depth that will weigh him down.”
That charming—and not entirely accurate—self-description appears in Epstein’s new book from Axios Press, A Literary Education and Other Essays. At $24 (and even less on Amazon.com!) it is, as they say, a steal: 537 pages of essays from Commentary, the New Criterion, The Weekly Standard, and other publications that have had sense enough to publish a man commonly regarded as one of the finest essayists in English. What Epstein deprecates as a dilettante is on closer inspection a polymath, and the range of his curiosity, as reflected in this collection, is simply astounding. The reader is borne from Bernard Berenson to Brando to Bob & Ray to Buber to Brooks Brothers, and he hasn’t even left the Bs yet. There’s wisdom on every page, along with excellent jokes (“Why do grandchildren and grandparents get along so well? They have a common enemy”) and vast erudition served with the lightest touch. “Learning to write sound, interesting, sometimes elegant prose is the work of a lifetime,” Epstein once wrote. Here’s the fruit of a lifetime well spent, much weightier perhaps than the writer himself realizes. Don’t leave for the beach without it!