Carey's assault on the founders of modern culture caused consternation throughout the artistic and academic establishments when it was first published in 1992.
He frankly portrays the snobberies and rituals of 1950s Oxford, but also his inspiring meetings with writers and poets - Auden, Graves, Larkin, Heaney - and his forty-year stint as a lead book-reviewer for the Sunday Times.
This is a book about the joys of reading - in effect, an informal introduction to the great works of English literature. But it is also about war and family, and how an unexpected background can give you the insight and the courage to say the unexpected thing.
John Donne: Life, Mind and Art is a unique attempt to see Donne whole. Beginning with an account of his life, it takes as its domain not only the whole range of the poetry, but also the sermons, the letters, the spiritual and controversial works, and such highly personal documents as the treatise on suicide. The result is a clearer picture than has hitherto emerged of one of the most intricate and compelling of literary personalities.
'The one book we have needed all along... A magnificent exercise in reappraisal. I have never read a critical work which reaches as deeply inside the mind of its subject.' Jonathan Raban, Sunday Times
'Carey's book is itself alive with the kind of energy it attributes to Donne.' Christopher Ricks, London Review of Books
Setting aside the usual interpretations of Dickens's work, A Violent Effigy delves into the wonderful, terrible fantasy world it inhabited. It shows Dickens torn between the appeal of violence and a fanatical orderliness: he was attracted by characters who commit murder or burst into flame or want to eat one another, but also required people soaped and regimented. The children he created were either the pious gnomes beloved of Victorian readers or callous, sharp-nosed children who pick out adults by the odd personal atmospheres they carry around. Among his females are mythic women whose insidious miniature weapons - needles, scissors - threaten the dominant male. He created a shadow-land between life and death, peopled by effigies, walking coffins, waxworks, stuffed creatures and disturbingly animated corpses.
John Carey skilfully shows how Dickens demolished Victorian shams, while keeping at bay the terrors of his fantasy. He celebrates, above all, Dickens' peculiar genius for renewing the world by the curious lights he saw in it.