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Spectator books of the year: Sam Leith explains why The Mighty Dead: Why Homer Matters nearly lost him money

22 November 2014

6:00 PM

22 November 2014

6:00 PM

I liked Adam Nicolson’s The Mighty Dead: Why Homer Matters (William Collins, £25) so much that — if I had had the first idea how to operate in a betting shop — I would have put a pony on it to win the Samuel Johnson prize. In the event, my incompetence saved me £25. But Nicolson was robbed. Here is a book bursting with enthusiasm, erudition and eccentricity: a travelogue, a memoir, a work of literary criticism and, at bottom, an archaeology of the western imagination. I found it completely thrilling.

Also, in John Berryman’s centenary year I was delighted to see Farrar, Straus and Giroux reissuing his work in some gorgeous new editions. The Heart is Strange (FSG, $26) is the one to start with: a wide selection from across Berryman’s whole career, including some previously uncollected rarities and with a clever and useful introduction by its editor Daniel Swift. Read it, and you think, in JB’s words: ‘Fancy the brain from hell held out so long.’

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