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The Most Dangerous Book: The Battle for James Joyce’s Ulysses, by Kevin Birmingham, Head of Zeus, RRP£20/Penguin Press, RRP$29.95, 432 pages
In The Most Dangerous Book, Kevin Birmingham examines James Joyce’s struggle to publish his epic, Ulysses (1922). Through the lens of censorship in interwar Britain and the US, he shows why the book was seen as a political threat: why “to turn style into futility. . .was to lay waste to all foundations”.
To write about Ulysses is to engage with a rich tradition and Birmingham’s insistence that his story “has never been told in its entirety” suggests an anxiety of influence. But this comprehensive and well researched book does stand out from its predecessors, eschewing dry, academic prose in favour of enthusiastic storytelling.
Birmingham’s style is digressive, with paragraphs often reading like Joycean inserts – albeit in a more conventional syntax. These snippets betray the peculiar devotion that Joyce has always inspired in his readers, and makes The Most Dangerous Book both enjoyable and accessible.