Those working in Victorian studies, particularly graduate students and those who teach courses in the period, will be interested in Altick's autobiography — A Little Bit of Luck, which brings to an even twenty the number of books he has published in the last 56 years. To Victorianists, he is probably best known for both scholarly works, such as The English Common Reader, Browning's Roman Murder Story, Victorian Studies in Scarlet and books on popular entertainment and painting, and also for student editions and works intended for the general reader, such as his invaluable Victorian People and Ideas: A Companion for the Modern Reader of Victorian Literature (1975), Those who do not specialize in the Victorian period who have written honors theses or done graduate work are likely to have used his Art of Literary Research, still after all these years an essential guide to scholarly detective work, and The Scholar Aventurers, a wonderful that beautifully communicates the challenge and excitement of the scholarly enterprise.

A Little Bit of Luck makes a fine informal companion piece to the Art of Literary Research and to works like Henry Rosovsky's The University: A User's Manual, for by relating the serendipity, perseverance, and sheer quanity of hard work that characterizes one particularly distinguished scholar's long productive career, it provides a sense of history, a kind of ballast, to those undertaking graduate studies in a period almost as difficult as when Altick began. Now that the dust created by the battles of the past three decades between archival scholars theorists have settled -- and many of those with a theoretical bent have turned to library-based research once more -- there is a real need to understand how the field developed, what the lives of earlier scholars were like, and what shape their careers took.

In slightly less than three hundred pages, Altick, a self-described child of the Depression, takes us from his birth in 1915 through his early interest in reading turn-of-the-century bestsellers, rarely the Bible or the usual classics, to his secondary school, college, and postgraduate education, pausing frequently to provide fascinating portraits of now-vanished scholars and educational practice. It is all both so similar and so different. Always modest and always happy exploring libraries, Altick, a man known for his apparently encyclopedia knowledge of stubjects he's studied — research techniques, the nineteenth-century reader, Victorian popular entertainment, and so on -- described himself as having a primarily journalistic bent. Modestly plugging away at research apparently far too daunting for the rest of us, he produced valuable work that has stood the test of time.


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Last modified 6 December 2004