Literary Saloon
Site of Review.

Trying to meet all your book preview and review needs.

the Best
the Rest
Review Index




to e-mail us:

support the site

In Association with Amazon.com

In association with Amazon.com - UK

In association with Amazon.ca - Canada

the Complete Review
the complete review - biographical

Sir Thomas Browne

Gavin Francis

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Sir Thomas Browne

Title: Sir Thomas Browne
Author: Gavin Francis
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: 2023
Length: 139 pages
Availability: Sir Thomas Browne - US
Sir Thomas Browne - UK
Sir Thomas Browne - Canada
from: Bookshop.org (US)
directly from: Oxford University Press
  • The Opium of Time
  • With numerous illustrations
  • A volume in Oxford University Press' 'My Reading'-series

- Return to top of the page -

Our Assessment:

B : a fine introductory/overview-study of Thomas Browne

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
TLS . 22/9/2023 Georgina Wilson

  From the Reviews:
  • "Throughout the book Francis moves between the life and writings of Browne and his own career, drawing out ideas which have aided doctors’ cumulative efforts to “postpone death” from the seventeenth century onwards. (...) Francis occasionally tends towards hagiography. (...) All this says something about who we want Browne to be. At the same time, he clearly held some opinions that don’t chime readily with twenty-first century notions of tolerance." - Georgina Wilson, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

- Return to top of the page -

The complete review's Review:

       Sir Thomas Browne is a volume in Oxford University Press' 'My Reading'-series, offering, as the Series Introduction at the beginning of the work explains:

personal models of what it is like to care about particular authors, to recreate through specific examples imaginative versions of what those authors and works represent, and to show their effect upon a reader's own thinking and development.
       In pairing Gavin Francis -- a widely-traveled doctor who has published numerous books for general readers -- with the seventeenth century Sir Thomas Browne they've found a good match.
       Francis' take is more biographical than chronicle of his own reading-(Browne-)experience, but he does tie it in well with his own experience, bringing that to bear on the study. Perhaps to make the connection more personal, Francis does open and close the book by addressing Browne directly, in the form of two letters, introducing and then looking back on his undertaking -- noting also the very different time he is writing from.
       In the concluding letter, Francis notes how his intention was, among other things, to offer: "some reflections on the great themes of your life as I saw them", and the book is arranged around these, its eight chapters focusing on: Ambiguity, Curiosity, Vitality, Piety, Humility, Misogyny, Mobility, and Mortality.
       Francis notes that Browne never became a Fellow of the Royal Society and that as far as actual "contributions to knowledge", at least of the scientific sort, Browne's were very limited -- "the first description of adipocere" (look it up, if you must ...) and: "an observation regarding electricity" -- and yet he continues to be read to this day -- unlike, for example, Francis Bacon ("read now almost exclusively by historians of science and of philosophy, not enthusiasts of literature"). Browne's style and use of language -- including his many: "utterly new coinages", additions to the English language -- still appeal, as does his approach, where, as Francis nicely puts it:
He never took a shortcut to a conclusion when he could take a perambulation; he never leapt to certainty when he could dwell for a while on enigma. Circumlocutions are his defining style
       Francis also notes the many writers who took to Browne and mentioned or wrote about him -- Sebald, in The Rings of Saturn, above all, but of course also Borges, as well as Woolf and Samuel Johnson, among others, making for a variety of perspectives over the centuries (with Francis noting, often revealingly, some of what particular authors specifically mention, or don't).
       Widely traveled himself, Francis is good on Browne's own voyaging -- first, in real life, and then in the mind -- and also, unsurprisingly, on Browne as medical professional, even as the practice of medicine has changed so much since his time.
       It makes for a fine and well-laid-out biographical introduction to Browne, with Francis particularly good in comparing Browne's times to our own, not least in describing various locales and universities, and how they've changed over time. One gets a decent sense of Browne's writing as well -- or at least his style, and the appeal it has held to such a wide variety of authors, as Francis' contribution to this 'My Reading'-series very much considers how others read Browne as well.

- M.A.Orthofer, 5 June 2023

- Return to top of the page -


Sir Thomas Browne: Thomas Browne: Gavin Francis: Other books of interest under review:

- Return to top of the page -

About the Author:

       British author and doctor Gavin Francis was born in 1975.

- Return to top of the page -

© 2023 the complete review

Main | the New | the Best | the Rest | Review Index | Links