Quite often, some of the best individual work appears in essays published in journals with limited circulation as opposed to those monographs which all too frequently are destined for dusty library shelves and bookstore remainder bins. Thus, a collection such as this is of such value in that it affords the reader convenient access to material from a diverse set of circumstances and sources otherwise difficult to obtain. E. P. Thompson’s monographs may be the meat and potatoes buttressing his reputation as one of Great Britain’s eminent historians and social critics, but his essays are the dessert.
The work reflects the two aspects of Thompson’s writing in that it is divided into biography and polemics. Thus, part 1 concentrates on personalities as dissimilar as Mary Wollstonecraft and Christopher St. John Springg (Christopher Caudwell)—the one a book review in NEW SOCIETY, and the other and intellectual appraisal from the SOCIALIST REVIEW. Then, appear commentaries which range from judgments of the work of various fellows in the profession to changes in the jury system or the role of poetry as a political act. Some of these are book reviews and some essays specifically commissioned by the editors.
The essays presented in this volume, the first of several presenting Thompson’s work, differ in length and in ease of comprehension to the lay reader. Moreover, Thompson was an academic turned political dissenter of the type common to British letters, but less so in this country. In consequence, his political orientation affected his scholarly work to a degree Americans seldom appreciate or accept. Nevertheless, this work belongs on a professional shelf if for no other reason than the compact nature of the collection.