Picks and Pans Review: Masterpieces

updated 12/21/1981 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/21/1981 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Alistair Cooke

Consider this provocative, eloquent sentence from Cooke's essay on Tolstoy: "What another writer would have rejoiced in—his unblinking sense of the rich disorder of life—drove him almost insane from the effort to discipline and arrange it into a noble harmony." No wonder that the expatriate Englishman's introductions to public TV's Masterpiece Theatre, whose 10th anniversary this book salutes, have played such a major role in its success. With illustrations from the programs and from period art, Cooke repackages his commentaries on such hits as I, Claudius, Elizabeth R, Anna Karenina, Upstairs, Downstairs and even includes the oddly tedious series on Second World War bomb-disposal squads in England, Danger UXB. The only thing this book can't convey is the sound of Cooke's voice, speaking English in a way that turns the language into music. (Knopf, $25)

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