Randall Jarrell, “Poetry and the Age.” Every essay in this collection glitters with wit and enthusiasm; “The Age of Criticism” should be required reading for everyone in the reviewing trade.
Lionel Trilling, “The Liberal Imagination.” The dialectical method at its peak, honed to revelatory art.
Edmund Wilson, “Patriotic Gore.” Criticism that attains the force, narrative and dramatic, of fiction.
Pauline Kael, “The Citizen Kane Book.” How did she do it—revisit the recent past and make it seem like news?
John Updike, “Hugging the Shore.” If a great novelist reads this avidly, the rest of us have no excuse not to.
—Sam Tanenhaus is editor of The New York Times Book Review. He is the author of “Literature Unbound: A Guide for the Common Reader,” and “Whittaker Chambers: A Biography,” which won the Los Angeles Times Book Award for biography, and was a finalist for the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize.