|New York Review Books|
the observer Sun 15 November 2009
This collection of essays by writers on their friends, all of which were first published in the New York Review of Books, throws up a few oddities from the outset. The remit goes beyond the potentially incestuous world of literature to include music, art and science, and so there are reminiscences from Robert Oppenheimer on Einstein and Joseph Brodsky on Isaiah Berlin, in addition to the more predictable essays from the likes of Seamus Heaney (on Thomas Flanagan) and Oliver Sacks (on Francis Crick). Some may deplore the American bias, or the omissions, such as no essay by Kingsley Amis on Philip Larkin. Set against this is the excellence of much of the writing, often with a humorous and wry tone that belies the sadness of the lives described.