Waiting for the Barbarians:
Essays from the Classics to Pop Culture
by Daniel Mendelsohn
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A compelling mixed review is a devilishly difficult thing to write. Raves and pans have obvious, inherent drama, as they get to trumpet great successes or bemoan deplorable failures. But a mixed review must share the less exciting news that something is good, not great—or that, while the work in question mostly misses the target, it is not entirely without interest. Many mixed reviews thus read like so much wishy-washy indecision.
But the most compelling reviews in Daniel Mendelsohn’s very good new collection of them, Waiting for the Barbarians, are decidedly mixed. Regular readers of the New Yorker, the New Republic, and, especially, the New York Review of Books know that Mendelsohn is a formidably learned writer, a classicist who has written a scholarly study of Euripides, translated C. P. Cavafy, and published
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