Max Beerbohm once observed there were some writers who have been spoiled by their desire to do “important” work: “Some people are born to lift heavy weights. Some are born to juggle with golden balls.” Writing about Beerbohm in this hefty collection of biographical essays, Joseph Epstein sees those golden jugglers as “the ones with wit, the ability to pierce pretension, and the calm detachment to mock large ideas and salvationist schemes.”
Not without cause does Epstein think of himself as one of those jugglers (in fact he once published an essay about his modest abilities as a real juggler), who pierce contemporary salvationist schemes, mainly leftist and academic ones. Epstein, who edited The American Scholar for more than two decades, much to the magazine’s credit, is the author of 23 books, many of them collections of personal or literary essays. He may or may not be, as the blurb on the new one has it, “the greatest living essayist writing in English” but, like Beerbohm, he would mock ever so adroitly this inflation of his writings into greatness.