What W. H. Auden Can Do for You, Hardback
3.5 out of 5 (2 ratings)


When facing a moral dilemma, Isabel Dalhousie--Edinburgh philosopher, amateur detective, and title character of a series of novels by best-selling author Alexander McCall Smith--often refers to the great twentieth-century poet W.

H. Auden. This is no accident: McCall Smith has long been fascinated by Auden.

Indeed, the novelist, best known for his No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series, calls the poet not only the greatest literary discovery of his life but also the best of guides on how to live.

In this book, McCall Smith has written a charming personal account about what Auden has done for him--and what he just might do for you.

Part self-portrait, part literary appreciation, the book tells how McCall Smith first came across the poet's work in the 1970s, while teaching law in Belfast, a violently divided city where Auden's "September 1, 1939," a poem about the outbreak of World War II, strongly resonated.

McCall Smith goes on to reveal how his life has related to and been inspired by other Auden poems ever since. For example, he describes how he has found an invaluable reflection on life's transience in "As I Walked Out One Evening," while "The More Loving One" has provided an instructive meditation on unrequited love.

McCall Smith shows how Auden can speak to us throughout life, suggesting how, despite difficulties and change, we can celebrate understanding, acceptance, and love for others.

An enchanting story about how art can help us live, this book will appeal to McCall Smith's fans and anyone curious about Auden.


  • Format: Hardback
  • Pages: 152 pages, illustrations
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: Literary studies: from c 1900 -
  • ISBN: 9780691144733



Free Home Delivery

on all orders

Pick up orders

from local bookshops


Showing 1 - 2 of 2 reviews.

Review by

I chose this book off the library shelf on a whim, mostly based on my fondness for the Ladies No. 1 Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith. This served me well as a general introduction to the British poet W. H. Auden and was a short, but interesting, read. The book would perhaps be of more interest to fans of McCall Smith's Isabel Dalhousie series, considering Isabel's considerable interest in Auden. I would recommend this to fans of McCall Smith or those interested in the ability of poetry to wind its way into our hearts and enhance our perceptions of the world we live in.

Review by

A delightful, personal view of W.H. Auden's work, simple and honest, and an encouragement to get inspired by the ideas and thoughts Auden investigates. McCall Smith believes Auden can help us better understand life and ourselves, which is something only a true artist can - reveal something we did not know before.

Also in the Writers on Writers series   |  View all