With a heavy focus on the role of character in American politics and literature, Garber’s book sheds a necessary light on the often unrecognized influence of character in society. Although this work is not one to turn to for light-hearted pleasure or an easy read, it is a valuable addition to anyone’s reading list ... Garber’s discussion of character renders the term such a monumental force that it seems impossible to cover all aspects of its meaning. Still, she manages to successfully tap on the significance of character in almost every dimension ... Her criticisms are sharp yet logically supported in such a way that even the most conservative grandparent at a big family dinner couldn’t argue against them ... While sophisticated and filled to the brim with academic references, Garber’s book effectively makes the content accessible and interesting. Character: The History of a Cultural Obsession exemplifies Garber’s many areas of expertise, interacting well with other works to ultimately leave readers with a clarified perspective and new method of analyzing the complicated workings of society.
Can an examination of the single word 'character' sustain a book of 383 pages and another 40-odd pages of endnotes? Turns out it can, and does so brilliantly in Marjorie Garber’s magisterial book on the word, its etymology, its altered meanings, its social ramifications. Best known for her work on Shakespeare, Ms. Garber from time to time departs her field to take on other, dare one say unlikely, subjects, among them sex and real estate, bisexuality, the love of dogs, and cross-dressing. Scholarly by training and savvy by instinct, she writes without any of the dampening jargon now common in academic prose and with an impressive respect for the complexity of her subject ... One understands Ms. Garber’s temptation to enliven her pages by these contemporary names, but her book loses some of its elevated tone in doing so ... These contemporary references also reveal Ms. Garber’s politics. In the five-stage illness known as Trump Derangement Syndrome, Ms. Garber, I should say, is at stage one. (At stage five, the mere mention of the name evokes unprintable epithets streaming from one’s foam-flecked lips, with seizure seeming not far off.)
This panoramic look at the concept of character reveals cultural shifts, unexploded fallacies, and more than a little bad behavior, rhetorical and otherwise ... Surveying philosophical, literary, and social science perspectives as well as recent political rhetoric, Garber...finds that character is a bewilderingly slippery abstraction that has endured and evolved ... Garber wonders if the concept is so hollowed out by misuse that it should be retired, but in the end, she views character as a mirror reflecting the contradictions that define human nature.