"In the tradition of Paul Johnson's INTELLECTUALS, CREATORS, and HEROES, a new book of biographical portraits of the greatest humorists and wits in modern history"--
British historian Johnson (Churchill) misses the mark with this odd collection of biographical snapshots of "humorists"-the term is debatable-throughout Western history. Noting that laughter was first recorded in words in chapter 18 of the book of Genesis, Johnson divides humorists into two categories: those who create chaos for laughs and those who analyze the inherent oddness of individual personalities to find comedy. But instead of using this basic rubric-and all points of intersection-to explore the evolution of humor from the 18th century to our current one, Johnson's portraits of these so-called humorous men (Nancy Mitford is the only woman, and she shares a chapter with Noel Coward) lose any sense of a central thesis. Particularly in the cases of painters Hogarth, Thomas Rowlandson, and Toulouse-Lautrec, Johnson's intense focus on minute details of works not reproduced in the text make his analysis difficult to grasp for readers unfamiliar with the artists' work. Chapters devoted to Charlie Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy, the Marx Brothers, and James Thurber are among the best, and in them Johnson is able to stifle his urge to overanalyze the biographical elements and let the subjects-and their amazing comedic work-speak for themselves. (Dec.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
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November 30, 2010
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