...Holmes’s books, while biographically persuasive, always feel subtly personal. The 'Footsteps principle' allows the narrative to build on clearly visualized scenes, even as the overall tone is that of intimate, civilized conversation. Above all, Holmes never comes across as stiff or stuffy ... All in all, This Long Pursuit offers an abundance of literary entertainment and instruction.
While Holmes divides his essays into sections, each can be read as a riff on Virginia Woolf’s sly observation that the actual length of a person’s life is open to dispute. Lives don’t necessarily end on deathbeds after all. Biographically speaking, Holmes points out, the dead are immortal, the more so if you acknowledge the essential open-endedness of the exercise. Documents surface. Memories fail. In an especially loose-limbed chapter he takes his uncertainty out for a stroll, reflecting back to that seminal summer ... He is particularly eloquent about Shelley, with whom he has lived intermittently for decades and who met his end in an 1822 shipwreck.
...history haunts Holmes at every turn, creating a book in which the past persistently peers over the present’s shoulder, collapsing the distance between then and now ... In the tradition of most successful historians and biographers, Holmes seems to achieve this intimacy with the past by immersing himself, trance-like, within a given terrain, with every brick or rock or tree a talisman tugging him deeper and deeper into the immense well of human experience. Holmes’s closeness with his surroundings sometimes invites the reader in, yet occasionally shuts him out.