Charles Dickens wrote in the 19th century, but at nearly 200 years old, he’s an expert on the 21st century as well. "For the mid-Victorians, government intervention was unthinkable, the market was king, only private philanthropy was tolerated," writes Michael Levenson for Slate. In other words, to paraphrase a Tale of Two Cities, it was a time much like the present. Dickens "has caught up to us, or we have reverted to him," Levenson notes. "Either way, it’s time to return to Dickens."
Dickens portrayed everyone from the upper crust to the "wasting orphan," and he recognized his country’s sense of "exceptionalism" even as it declined. He offered a "withering attack on power small and large" as he revealed "economic fraud and political evasion." Sound familiar? Levenson—who admits he loves the novelist "the way you're supposed to love only a parent, a partner, a child"—suggests celebrating the author’s upcoming birthday by picking up one of his novels, or one of two excellent new biographies, written by Claire Tomalin and Robert Douglas-Fairhurst, respectively. Click to read Levenson's take on the bios. (Read more Charles Dickens stories.)