Books by Scott Donaldson

Released: Nov. 2, 1999

A tidy though somewhat tedious history of the literary rivalry and oft-fractured friendship between Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Donaldson, biographer of Fitzgerald (1983) and John Cheever (1988), begins with a laborious introduction to his subjects" childhoods and early romances that limply attempts to draw striking parallels between the two men based upon such unexceptional experiences as problems with parents and love affairs ending disastrously. After this lamentable opening, however, Donaldson's pacing and analysis improve markedly as he delineates the origins of the men's friendship amidst the snappy decadence of the American expatriate community in 1920s Paris. With their world populated by the likes of Gertrude Stein, John Dos Passos, Archibald MacLeish, and the cream of the Parisian social scene, Hemingway and Fitzgerald moved, frolicked, and fought in the limelight both of their private social circles and a scrutinizing public eye. Tempers frequently flashed over their criticisms of each other's works: Hemingway's attack on Tender Is the Night and Fitzgerald's suggested revisions for A Farewell to Arms are but two examples of their aggressive posturing, which stretched into long literary skirmishes. The many fracases the two men found themselves in, including Hemingway's pummeling of critic Max Eastman and Fitzgerald's alcohol-induced misadventures, provided the men with ample opportunities either to realign themselves as friends in mutual support or to distance themselves from each other. Even more, though, than their respective writings and celebrated social blunders, the friendship floundered over the question of reputation; as Fitzgerald succinctly stated, "I talk with the authority of failure—Ernest with the authority of success. We could never sit across the same table again." Freed from Donaldson's armchair psychoanalysis of his subjects, Hemingway Vs. Fitzgerald would emerge a cleaner and tighter history of the men, whose heady lives and harrowing words could well be left to tell their own story without such an intrusive authorial presence. (18 b&w photos) Read full book review >
Released: May 1, 1992

Poet, lawyer, Librarian of Congress, statesman, and professor, MacLeish (1892-1982) revived the Homeric ideal of a poet as ``a man in the world.'' In this authorized and idealized biography, his only flaws are a demanding nature, many discreet infidelities, and lack of interest in his children. Fortunately, Donaldson (English/William and Mary College) is as successful in celebrating MacLeish's strengths as he has been in tracing the demons that destroyed Cheever (John Cheever, 1988), Fitzgerald, and Hemingway. Born into a wealthy Illinois family, MacLeish attended Yale and Harvard Law, married his childhood sweetheart, and moved to Paris, where he joined the circle around Joyce and Hemingway (his lifelong friend) and, sustained by family resources, devoted himself to poetry. Returning to N.Y.C., he spent the 30's editing and writing for Fortune magazine while producing radio and stage plays (starring the young Orson Welles) that expressed his liberal politics. In the 40's, MacLeish served as the first Librarian of Congress, then as Secretary of State for Cultural Affairs, and, after helping to write the preamble to the UN Charter, worked for UNESCO. Even after accepting a Harvard professorship in 1946, he remained a mediator between the worlds of art and of public life, urging the release of Ezra Pound from his mental asylum and publishing, the day after the first moon landing, a celebratory poem on the front page of The New York Times. MacLeish's last years were spent lecturing, traveling, gathering prizes, entertaining friends (including Richard Burton and Liz Taylor), and writing dramas, as well as private but unrevealing poems about old age, his various affairs, and the bliss he found in his marriage. For such a long and spectacular life, this is a spare and unpretentious biography, like MacLeish's verse. Donaldson is informed, respectful, and comfortable with the many different roles his subject played. He tastefully draws on unpublished verse to illuminate the shadows—but mostly, like MacLeish himself, stays in the light. (Twenty-four pages of b&w photographs—not seen.) Read full book review >