Books by Mary McCarthy

A CLOSER LOOK by Mary McCarthy
CHILDREN'S
Released: Sept. 1, 2007

Often, we have to step back to see the bigger picture: Step back from a single black spot to see that indeed it is only one of a pair upon a ladybug's back. Retreat further still and see that this bug is just one among many in a fine and colorful garden that was earlier outside our field of vision. Cunningly combed feathering on full-bleed endpapers has quite a different impact when viewed macroscopically from the effect it has when miniaturized to become the delicate plumage of a hummingbird's wing. Step back and see. McCarthy is a papermaker/calligrapher/collage artist whose marvelous hand-made book creations have been privately collected and displayed in eminent institutions for years. She applies her keen sense of color, concept and craft here in a dynamic demonstration of the impact of perspective, which inexorably affects understanding and will challenge young readers to look closer. Add this to Barbara Lehman's The Red Book (2004) and Istvan Banyai's Zoom (1995) for a captivating concept study in the art room, the science lab or for a lesson in visual literacy. (Picture book. 5-10)Read full book review >
INTELLECTUAL MEMOIRS by Mary McCarthy
BIOGRAPHY & MEMOIR
Released: May 14, 1992

For all its final aborted promise, this slender sequel to How I Grew (1987), left unfinished at McCarthy's death in 1989, vibrates with the wicked wit and moral astringency that made the author a giant of American belles-lettres. If How I Grew covered the birth of her intellectual consciousness, this volume details the birth of McCarthy's career as a writer—practicing her craft as a twentysomething, Waspish book and theater critic at Partisan Review while accumulating the experience that would nourish her later career and quarrels (including her decisive break with Stalinism and the sequel encounter that inspired ``The Man in the Brooks Brothers Suit''). In her fond introduction, friend Elizabeth Hardwick traces McCarthy's tactile re-creation of time, place, and character to her ``somewhat obsessional concern for the integrity of sheer fact in matters both trivial and striking.'' The result, when combined with her familiar mockery of phonies and poseurs, is explosive laughter. Witness incidents about Corliss Lamont, a ``pawky freckled swain'' who unsuccessfully attempted to seduce her; and about a rival for her first husband's affections, ``a yellow-eyed lynxlike blonde given to stretching herself like the cats she fancied.'' Equally incapable of lying about herself—``self-deception always chilled me''—McCarthy recounts how she wrote a politically correct review for fellow-traveler Malcolm Cowley at The New Republic, drunkenly sat on Max Eastman's lap at a party, and slept with three different men within 24 hours. Most of all, she ruefully recalls how badly she hurt her lover, Partisan Review editor Philip Rahv, by embarking on an affair with, and later disastrous marriage to, Edmund Wilson. A small gem, viewing an era of deep political and personal engagement with no tears and a brave heart. Read full book review >
NON-FICTION
Released: Feb. 6, 1977

This book may sound forbidding, but do not be dissuaded, for it is a majestic work of deep humility and earnestness, and radiant imagination. Since it consists of Arendt's Gifford Lectures (1973-74), it retains much of the directness of spoken prose, and, as edited by Mary McCarthy (who contributes an afterword), it is fluent and felicitously phrased. Taking as her subject the three principal activities of mind—Thinking, Willing, Judging (having examined the practical life of Labor, Work, and Action in The Human Condition) she draws with studious care and far-reaching erudition from the history of ideas to argue the necessity of Thinking and to chart the rise and fall of Willing in Western culture. (Judging is addressed directly only in a fragment at the end.) Arendt's reflections were originally prompted by the Eichmann trial, which had disclosed to her a man whose hideous actions had arisen from sheer thoughtlessness. Thinking does not itself create morality or grasp truth or knowledge, but it breeds the self-consciousness that makes them possible. Hence, Thinking is the indispensable source of meaning in experience, and philosophers ignore this who "mistake the need to think with the urge to know" and thus dismiss all thought that cannot produce scientific Truths. Kant alone saw the decisive difference between reason-thinking-essences-meaning on the one hand and cognition-knowledge-appearances-truth on the other; and Socrates had set the ruling moral precedent; the thoughtless life has no meaning. This elegant and moving meditation on the imperatives of critical thought passes into a more strenuous dialogue with the great thinkers on the nature and history of Will. Locating the discovery of Will in Christianity's struggles with sin, Arendt sees Will rise with the belief in progress and then fade with the denial of progress, freedom, and self-assertion in Nietzsche and Heidegger. Although she advocates thinking and free will, Arendt sheds no tears over the tough secularity of modern thought. And these explorations of the life of mind perfectly exemplify the vigorous life that she praises—most pertinently and accessibly in Volume One. Read full book review >
THE GROUP by Mary McCarthy
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Aug. 28, 1963

Out of the grove of academe (Vassar-'31) into the big world comes the group, with their unassailable self-assurance: they had gone to the very best college (well, Vassar was better than Smith or Wellesley); they had some ennobling notions about being enlightened and interested in higher things; and they had had a very liberal education although in one area it proves to be a little patchy (in spite of stealthy readings in Krafft Ebbing and what the doctors at Vassar had told them)....This is the book which has aroused considerable advance speculation and well it might; it has a tremendous reader recognition (for a few—mottled with indignation) and there cannot be much doubt that Mary McCarthy is an exceptional social satirist, with a jackdaw eye and an infallible ear. Through the seriatim sequence of events as one by one the girls go out to get a job, or a man, or keep him, the book not only achieves its continuity but its mobility of life through the '30's, social, political, professional and personal. From Kay's wedding in the church where her unreal will be held at the close of the book, this goes from one to the next—Dottie and her first experience, stripped to her string of pearls—the totem of good taste; Libby, who had done outstanding themes at Vassar, and now tries to make the literary scene in New York; Polly and her love for a young publisher who is married and in treatment and in conflict between "Fall River and Union Square"; Lakey who goes off to Europe—only on her return, is her sapphic streak apparent to the group who had known her so well in that intimate circle of eight who had lived in South Tower; etc., etc. Certainly here, more than in any of her other novels, there's the evidence that Mary McCarthy can not only impale but move and there's more than a little residual sympathy for those involved. It's a stunning entertainment, with many special effects, the civilized intelligence, the style, the wit. Succès de scandale AND succès d'estime, it's an irresistible combination. Read full book review >