An outstanding biography of a prolific author for whom writing was “a ghastly protracted slog."




An acclaimed biographer turns his attention to the author he has called America’s “greatest living novelist."

Philip Roth (1933-2018) was famous enough to socialize with the likes of Frank Sinatra and Claudette Colbert; at one point, he turned down the advances of recently widowed Jackie Kennedy. In this excellent biography, Bailey offers an evenhanded portrait of an author whose many admirers include authors Nicole Krauss, Edna O’Brien, and Zadie Smith but whose depictions of women in novels such as Portnoy’s Complaint and Sabbath’s Theater infuriated others. For example, in 2011, his Man Booker International Prize spurred one of the judges—Carmen Callil, founder of the feminist Virago Press, the English publisher of Leaving a Doll’s House, the scathing memoir by Roth’s ex-wife, Claire Bloom—to resign in protest. Roth gave Bailey access to his archive and sat down for interviews, and it shows, especially in the many intimate details about Roth’s personal life: his Jewish upbringing in Newark; his friendships and rivalries with John Updike, William Styron, and other contemporaries; his ailments, from lifelong back trouble to coronary artery disease, for which he preferred a bypass over beta blockers because the medicine made him impotent; and his many affairs, including while married to Bloom. Bailey offers positive and negative assessments of Roth’s books, from describing Goodbye, Columbus as “a kind of Jewish Gatsby, given the charm of its prose and humor, its concision, and its theme of meretricious American-style success,” to calling out the “breathtaking tastelessness toward women” in The Great American Novel. While Bailey notes that Roth may not have been the misogynist some would believe, he doesn’t shy away from pointing out his flaws and blind spots—e.g., when Roth referred to the “ghastly pansy rhetoric” of Edward Albee’s play Tiny Alice in a 1965 review or when he organized a party for Bloom’s 62nd birthday with his married lover in attendance.

An outstanding biography of a prolific author for whom writing was “a ghastly protracted slog."

Pub Date: April 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-393-24072-6

Page Count: 880

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Jan. 6, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2021

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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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