Will now stand as the definitive Bellow biography.



The author of The Life of Kingsley Amis (2007) returns with the first installment of a two-volume biography of Saul Bellow (1915-2005), winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1976.

Leader (English/Univ. of Roehampton) is a believer in the hefty biography (Amis’ nears 1,000 pages), and his new volume—which takes us to the publication of Bellow’s Herzog—will bend a hardwood shelf, as well. The research underlying the text is formidable. Leader certainly read everything, talked to everyone relevant who would talk with him (not everyone would), and visited numerous significant sites. Throughout, the author expresses his gratitude to the (few) Bellow biographers who have gone before, occasionally pausing to disagree—especially with James Atlas, although Leader later provides some praise in source notes. In structure, this volume is traditional. After an introduction that praises Bellow, he takes us to Russia (Bellow’s ancestral home) and then marches steadily forward chronologically. In many places, the author stops his narrative to explore fictional analogs among Bellow’s actual experiences, friends, and lovers. This occurs in every section and sometimes goes on for quite a while, occasionally trying even an indulgent reader’s patience. But what a busy life Bellow had. He taught at the University of Minnesota, Bard College, the University of Chicago, and at other venues, including Puerto Rico, where he found the heat oppressive. Among his students were William Kennedy and Donald Barthelme. Bellow also traveled around Europe, and he hung out with Ralph Ellison, partied with Gore Vidal, dined with Marilyn Monroe, attended a Kennedy White House tribute to André Malraux, had sex with myriad women—but was stunned to discover that his second wife had been having a long affair with one of his friends, writer Jack Ludwig. Some violence ensued. The volume ends with some pages about Herzog, the novel that propelled Bellow into celebrity.

Will now stand as the definitive Bellow biography.

Pub Date: May 5, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-307-26883-9

Page Count: 816

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2015

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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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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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