Non Fiction Review: A Dab of Dickens and a Touch of Twain

A Dab of Dickens  A Touch of Twain by Elliot Engel

A Dab of Dickens A Touch of Twain: Literary Lives from Shakespeare’s Old England to Frost’s New England
by Elliot Engel

2 out of 5 stars

This book gives short biographies of literature’s greatest authors and poets, including Chaucer, Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Poe, the Brontes, the Brownings, Dickens, George Eliot, Emily Dickinson, Oscar Wilde, Mark Twain, Hardy, Doyle, D.H. Lawrence, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and Frost.

These are actually classroom lectures that have been written out, and the writing style reflects that. It doesn’t feel like a normal biography or literary essay. The style is more conversational. I really hated that, because the author tries to be funny and clever and does not succeed. The dad jokes are numerous.

The condescending tone of the author got on my nerves. The writing style is very patronizing, as if the author is the expert last word on all literary opinions and they are going to mansplain it to you.

In the section on the Bronte sisters, the author completely dismisses Anne Bronte as inferior to her sisters, and praises Emily and Charlotte’s works. That made me angry. I think Anne Bronte is just as brilliant as her sisters, even if the “experts” don’t agree.

I also had issues with the way the author passed judgement on all these historical figures through the lens of his own modern philosophies and morals. I was looking for a book of facts about these literary people from history, but instead I got Engel’s opinion about them.

I found out pretty quickly that the author’s morality is not at all similar to my own, so it was upsetting to read all about his moral opinions instead of just facts. He is disparaging of Christianity. He seems to think his own philosophy is superior to any other; as if no one else in history is allowed to have any other opinions or beliefs.

I just hated his entire writing style. I’m so disappointed in this book.

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