John Milton: Life, Work, and Thought

John Milton is one of the enigmas of English letters; his imprint is deep, and yet its outlines are indistinct. Philip Pullman has done much to renew popular interest in Milton, even as he contests the poet's account of Good and Evil. Like Lyra's Oxford, the parallel universe that is the chief setting of Pullman's His Dark Materials series, Milton's world was topsy-turvy by present-day standards. In his strife-torn England, it was humanists who stood in the camp of monarchy, tradition, and authoritarianism, while religious conservatives were champions of science, representative government, and freedom of speech. John Milton: Life, Work, and Thought finds its force not only as a scholarly study of Milton's life and works but as a wide-ranging introduction to an age that, for all its strangeness, set the stage for modernity. Authors Gordon Campbell and Thomas N. Corns assemble the materials of Milton in all their knotty particulars, tracing the tender complexities of Milton's personal life, comprehending the rigors and rituals of the academic and clerical spheres in which he moved, and cataloging the difficulties (not to mention the mortal dangers) of living as a public intellectual in the time of Cromwell and King Charles. Milton navigated these turbid streams with a combination of flexibility and stubborness, and Campbell and Corns are scrupulousy attentive to the twists and turns of a career that combined profound theology and political engagement with poetic invention at its highest pitch. The lengthy job of work they set for their readers is repaid in rich fare for the historical imagination. "For books are not absolutely dead things," as Milton wrote, "but do contain a potency of life in them to be as active as that soul was whose progeny they are."

April 23: " 'A job,' the woman repeated again, smiling, as if I hadn't heard her. 'Would you like one?' "

Kenneth Calhoun (Black Moon) and Lysely Tenorio (Monstress) of the Discover Great New Writers program on B-movies, heritage, and finales.

advertisement
Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
A Private Venus

Dubbed "the Italian Simenon," Giorgio Scerbanenco (1911-1969) began his crime-writing career with books set in the USA, but quickly shifted scene closer to home, the city of Milan.  In this adventure, appearing in English for the first time, his underdog hero Dr. Duca Lamberti finds himself in the middle of a seedy, scantily clad criminal racket, where the presence of an outsider could result in death.

The Promise of Hope

Killed last year in the infamous terror attack at Nairobi's Westgate mall, Kofi Awoonor was a national treasure in his native Ghana.  His career began in 1964 with Rediscovery, and this magnum opus serves as a tribute to his entire long journey charting his beloved nation's course through his accomplished poetry.

Winter Mythologies and Abbots

A pair of linked stories finds that, as translator Ann Jefferson relates, "[Pierre] Michon's great theme is the precarious balance between belief and imposture, and the way the greatest aspirations can be complicated by physical desire or the equally urgent desire for what he calls glory."