“I don’t like to meddle in my private affairs,” Karl Kraus once quipped, and his aphorism would have made a perfect epigraph to this book. For few memoirists have been less impatient to plumb their own depths than Anthony Powell. When, for example, his first child is born, Powell confides in us, “I found that becoming a father had a profound effect on the manner in which one looked at the world”—and not a word more on the subject. Note how, by sentence’s end, even the pronoun has withdrawn into impersonality.

To Keep the Ball Rolling—an abridged and revised edition of the four autobiographical volumes that Powell (1905–2000) published between 1976 and 1982, and which now appears for the first time in this country—does not recount a career of any great outward drama. Eton, then Oxford; a stint in publishing, another in screenwriting, a third as literary editor of...


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