Essays in Biography

Joseph Epstein. Axios (NBN, dist.), $24 (564p) ISBN 978-1-60419-068-7
Epstein (former editor of American Scholar and author of Gossip: The Untrivial Pursuit) brings an erudite gift for portraiture to the subjects of this volume’s 40 essays. Focused primarily on figures from the 19th and 20th centuries (with occasional excursions into Greek antiquity and colonial America), Epstein offers eloquent assessments of philosophers, politicians, athletes, composers, social scientists, movie stars, and especially writers and critics. He is particularly drawn to figures whose renown is at odds with their personal and professional shortcomings—hence, his evaluation of Ralph Ellison, author of The Invisible Man, as a writer whose inability to complete his second novel for the next 42 years suggests that “perhaps it is not a good idea to write a great book the first time out.” His studies of Dwight Macdonald, Gore Vidal, Irving Howe, Alfred Kazin, and Irving Kristol create a lively, multifaceted portrait of America’s postwar intelligentsia. Though not uncritical, Epstein is more adulatory of celebrities, among them George Gershwin (“a genius of the natural kind”), Irving Thalberg (“the most talented producer in the history of American movies”), and Michael Jordan (“this magnificent athlete who turned his sport into art”). Opinionated and sometimes personal (notably in his piece on Saul Bellow, who fell out with him), these essays are edifying and often very entertaining. Agent: Georges Borchardt Inc. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 07/23/2012
Release date: 10/01/2012
Genre: Nonfiction
Open Ebook - 475 pages - 978-1-60419-069-4
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