A nuanced, authoritative portrait of a legendary artist.




A sweeping biography reveals personal, political, and cultural turbulence.

Drawing on some 300 interviews, a rich, newly available archive of personal papers, and abundant published sources, biographer, essayist, and translator Moser (Why This World: A Biography of Clarice Lispector, 2009) offers a comprehensive, intimate—and surely definitive—biography of writer, provocateur, and celebrity intellectual Susan Sontag (1933-2004). Sympathetic and sharply astute, Moser recounts the astonishing evolution of Susan Rosenblatt, an impressively bright and inquisitive child of the Jewish middle class, into an internationally acclaimed, controversial, and often combative cultural figure. Even as a child, Sontag—she changed her name after her mother’s second marriage—saw herself as exceptional: smarter than her classmates, so widely read and articulate that she astonished her professors. Nevertheless, although certain that she was destined for greatness, she was tormented by an abiding fear of inadequacy. Moser recounts Sontag’s education, friendships, and sexual encounters; her realization that she was bisexual; and her wide-ranging interests in psychoanalysis, politics, and, most enduringly, aesthetics. He offers judicious readings of all of Sontag’s works, from her 1965 “Notes on ‘Camp,’ ” which, according to Nora Ephron, transformed her from a “highbrow critic” to “a midcult commodity”; to the late novels of which she was proudest. Her private life was stormy. At 17, she married her sociology professor, Philip Rieff, after they had known each other for 10 days, and within two years, she was a mother. Neither marriage nor motherhood suited her. Devoid of maternal instinct, she was unable to care about anyone, said Jamaica Kincaid, “unless they were in a book.” Instead, among her many lovers—Richard Goodwin, Warren Beatty, Joseph Brodsky, Lucinda Childs, Annie Leibowitz, to name a few—she sought those who would care for her: publisher Roger Straus, who sustained her “professionally, financially, and sometimes physically”; and women who kept her fed, housed, and clean. Difficulties with basic hygiene, Moser notes, “suggest more than carelessness” but rather a persistent sense of alienation from her body—and exaltation of her mind.

A nuanced, authoritative portrait of a legendary artist.

Pub Date: Sept. 17, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-289639-1

Page Count: 832

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: June 11, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2019

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Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

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More life reflections from the bestselling author on themes of societal captivity and the catharsis of personal freedom.

In her third book, Doyle (Love Warrior, 2016, etc.) begins with a life-changing event. “Four years ago,” she writes, “married to the father of my three children, I fell in love with a woman.” That woman, Abby Wambach, would become her wife. Emblematically arranged into three sections—“Caged,” “Keys,” “Freedom”—the narrative offers, among other elements, vignettes about the soulful author’s girlhood, when she was bulimic and felt like a zoo animal, a “caged girl made for wide-open skies.” She followed the path that seemed right and appropriate based on her Catholic upbringing and adolescent conditioning. After a downward spiral into “drinking, drugging, and purging,” Doyle found sobriety and the authentic self she’d been suppressing. Still, there was trouble: Straining an already troubled marriage was her husband’s infidelity, which eventually led to life-altering choices and the discovery of a love she’d never experienced before. Throughout the book, Doyle remains open and candid, whether she’s admitting to rigging a high school homecoming court election or denouncing the doting perfectionism of “cream cheese parenting,” which is about “giving your children the best of everything.” The author’s fears and concerns are often mirrored by real-world issues: gender roles and bias, white privilege, racism, and religion-fueled homophobia and hypocrisy. Some stories merely skim the surface of larger issues, but Doyle revisits them in later sections and digs deeper, using friends and familial references to personify their impact on her life, both past and present. Shorter pieces, some only a page in length, manage to effectively translate an emotional gut punch, as when Doyle’s therapist called her blooming extramarital lesbian love a “dangerous distraction.” Ultimately, the narrative is an in-depth look at a courageous woman eager to share the wealth of her experiences by embracing vulnerability and reclaiming her inner strength and resiliency.

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0125-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.


The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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