Philip Roth: The Biography

Philip Roth: The Biography

by Blake Bailey

Narrated by George Guidall

Unabridged — 31 hours, 46 minutes

Philip Roth: The Biography

Philip Roth: The Biography

by Blake Bailey

Narrated by George Guidall

Unabridged — 31 hours, 46 minutes

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Overview

"I don't want you to rehabilitate me," Philip Roth said to his only authorized biographer, Blake Bailey. "Just make me interesting." Granted complete independence and access, Bailey spent almost ten years poring over Roth's personal archive, interviewing his friends, lovers, and colleagues, and listening to Roth's own breathtakingly candid confessions. Cynthia Ozick, in her front-page rave for the New York Times Book Review, described Bailey's monumental biography as "a narrative masterwork ... As in a novel, what is seen at first to be casual chance is revealed at last to be a steady and powerfully demanding drive. ... under Bailey's strong light what remains on the page is one writer's life as it was lived, and-almost-as it was felt."    Though Roth is generally considered an autobiographical novelist-his alter-egos include not only the Roth-like writer Nathan Zuckerman, but also a recurring character named Philip Roth-relatively little is known about the actual life on which so vast an oeuvre was supposedly based. Bailey reveals a man who, by design, led a highly compartmentalized life: a tireless champion of dissident writers behind the Iron Curtain on the one hand, Roth was also the Mickey Sabbath-like roué who pursued scandalous love affairs and aspired "[t]o affront and affront and affront till there was no one on earth unaffronted"-the man who was pilloried by his second wife, the actress Claire Bloom, in her 1996 memoir, Leaving a Doll's House.    Towering above it all was Roth's achievement: thirty-one books that give us "the truest picture we have of the way we live now," as the poet Mark Strand put it in his remarks for Roth's Gold Medal at the 2001 American Academy of Arts and Letters ceremonial. Tracing Roth's path from realism to farce to metafiction to the tragic masterpieces of the American Trilogy, Bailey explores Roth's engagement with nearly every aspect of postwar American culture.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

★ 02/22/2021

Biographer Bailey (Cheever) brings his talents to bear in this remarkable portrait of lauded and divisive literary titan Philip Roth (1933–2018). Roth was born in Newark, N.J., in “perhaps the most anti-Semitic decade in American history” and was, according to his father, “an all-American boy who loved baseball.” The Roth that Bailey brings to life is a complex mix of confidence and self-doubt; Roth became the youngest winner of the National Book Award and, Bailey writes, questioned “the whole concept of what a novel was, or what he himself was supposed to be as a writer.” Bailey tirelessly unpacks the real-life inspirations behind Roth’s fiction, shedding light on an early girlfriend who inspired Brenda Patimkin in his 1959 debut Goodbye, Columbus and the romantic fling who became a character 30 years later in The Human Stain. Bailey doesn’t shy away from Roth’s dark side, notably his self-involved nature and tendency to let “old griefs and resentments fester.” In consistently luminous, humorous prose, Bailey vividly evokes Roth as a writer and a man­—Roth would, for example, spend “the odd weekend” in 1964 with his girlfriend, and “by Sunday afternoons... would be almost beside himself: ‘You have to leave now! I have to work!’ ” A stunning feat, this is as dynamic and gripping as any of Roth’s own fictions. Photos. Agent: Shane Salerno. (Apr.)

The New Yorker - David Remnick

"Bailey is industrious, rigorous, and uncowed. … Although Roth would not have enjoyed some of the tumult that will now attend its publication, he might have admired his biographer’s ... refusal to fall under his subject’s sway. The man who emerges is a literary genius, constantly getting it wrong, loving others, then hurting them, wrestling with himself and with language, devoted to an almost unfathomable degree to the art of fiction."

Observer - Tim Adams

"Beautifully written … compulsively readable … It is hard to imagine a book that will come up with a more definitive series of answers than this one."

New York Times Magazine - Mark Oppenheimer

"[Roth] got to be remembered [in Bailey's biography] as a man: hilarious, mercurial, genuinely kind but fickle and meanspirited too. A man, rather than an inert legacy."

Boston Globe - Michael Schaub

"A wonderful book that seems certain to become the definitive biography of Roth’s fascinating, sometimes troubling, life—Roth was a brilliant writer, and Bailey does him justice in this beautifully written and highly readable volume."

New York Daily News - Jacqueline Cutler

"Blake Bailey’s book is definitive. It’s also often funny, sometimes appalling, and always fascinating—like its subject."

Bookforum - Christian Lorentzen

"[A] totemic and compulsively readable biography."

Times Literary Supplement (cover) - Elaine Showalter

"Monumental and engrossing … Bailey brings new information and a fresh perspective … Is Bailey’s compassionate and comprehensive book the biography? No other biographer will have known Roth so well, had such unlimited access to his archives, had a chance to ask him rude questions, even to watch him as he lay dying."

The Guardian - Blake Morrison

"Roth would approve of this biography, too, not because it's partial but because Bailey's industriousness is on a par with his own … it's a miracle that he has published so lucid a book just three years after Roth's death—and one so packed with good anecdotes and jokes."

Wall Street Journal - Sam Sacks

"Meticulous, masterfully organized and heroically fair-minded … [T]here are sparkling scenes portraying Truman Capote’s Black and White Ball, lunching with the Kennedys on Martha’s Vineyard, even a flirtation with Jackie Onassis, the only woman Roth was too awed by to pursue."

The Oprah Magazine O

"'Magisterial' and 'definitive' … don't do justice to Blake Bailey's years-in-the-making opus. … Bailey meticulously conjures the career of one of America's literary titans, the devils and angels that shaped his work."

The Spectator - David Baddiel

"Philip Roth, for all his flaws, for all that I know his legacy will continue to be judged in judgmental times and found wanting, deserves this riveting, serious and deeply intelligent biography."

The Atlantic - James Parker

"Bailey is a very good writer and a very good literary biographer. A double- or triple-natured subject is not beyond him. … What a story. … Bailey certainly lets the repellent in, and along with it comes the man in his wholeness."

Jonathan Lethem

"Philip Roth, to go with his legendary talent, was a lucky man. That streak continues with Blake Bailey’s charming, wise, and witty biography, which achieves a balance and comprehensiveness that shouldn’t have been possible so soon after Roth’s death."

New York Review of Books - Michael Gorra

"Unassailable as to fact … clear-eyed … quickly moving … Philip Roth seems as brightly peopled as a Victorian novel. … What [Bailey] does superbly … is chart Roth's sexual and emotional life, and map its effects on his work."

Booklist (starred review)

"Fully authorized, comprehensive, and engrossing … a consummate and unforgettable biography of a controversial, virtuoso, and indelible American writer."

New York Times Book Review (cover) - Cynthia Ozick

"Blake Bailey’s comprehensive life of Philip Roth—to tell it outright—is a narrative masterwork … As in a novel, what is seen at first to be casual chance is revealed at last to be a steady and powerfully demanding drive. … under Bailey’s strong light what remains on the page is one writer’s life as it was lived, and—almost—as it was felt."

Times of London - Claire Lowdon

"Superlative … Bailey's account is definitive and genuinely gripping to boot. … He leads us lucidly through a dense palimpsest of overlapping drafts, fictional identities, literary feuds and women."

Evening Standard - Tomiwa Owolade

"Fascinating … Bailey's utterly engrossing biography shows Roth led a life just as strange and intense as his fictionalized alter egos."

From the Publisher

"Blake Bailey’s comprehensive life of Philip Roth―to tell it outright―is a narrative masterwork ... As in a novel, what is seen at first to be casual chance is revealed at last to be a steady and powerfully demanding drive. ... under Bailey’s strong light what remains on the page is one writer’s life as it was lived, and―almost―as it was felt."
Cynthia Ozick, New York Times Book Review (cover)

"Bailey is industrious, rigorous, and uncowed. ... Although Roth would not have enjoyed some of the tumult that will now attend its publication, he might have admired his biographer’s ... refusal to fall under his subject’s sway. The man who emerges is a literary genius, constantly getting it wrong, loving others, then hurting them, wrestling with himself and with language, devoted to an almost unfathomable degree to the art of fiction."
David Remnick, The New Yorker

"[Roth] got to be remembered [in Bailey's biography] as a man: hilarious, mercurial, genuinely kind but fickle and meanspirited too. A man, rather than an inert legacy."
Mark Oppenheimer, New York Times Magazine

"Superlative ... Bailey's account is definitive and genuinely gripping to boot. ... He leads us lucidly through a dense palimpsest of overlapping drafts, fictional identities, literary feuds and women."
Claire Lowdon, Times of London

"Meticulous, masterfully organized and heroically fair-minded ... [T]here are sparkling scenes portraying Truman Capote’s Black and White Ball, lunching with the Kennedys on Martha’s Vineyard, even a flirtation with Jackie Onassis, the only woman Roth was too awed by to pursue."
Sam Sacks, Wall Street Journal

"Beautifully written ... compulsively readable ... It is hard to imagine a book that will come up with a more definitive series of answers than this one."
Tim Adams, Observer

"A wonderful book that seems certain to become the definitive biography of Roth’s fascinating, sometimes troubling, life―Roth was a brilliant writer, and Bailey does him justice in this beautifully written and highly readable volume."
Michael Schaub, Boston Globe

"Monumental and engrossing ... Bailey brings new information and a fresh perspective ... Is Bailey’s compassionate and comprehensive book the biography? No other biographer will have known Roth so well, had such unlimited access to his archives, had a chance to ask him rude questions, even to watch him as he lay dying."
Elaine Showalter, Times Literary Supplement (cover)

"Bailey is a very good writer and a very good literary biographer. A double- or triple-natured subject is not beyond him. ... What a story. ... Bailey certainly lets the repellent in, and along with it comes the man in his wholeness."
James Parker, The Atlantic

"Unassailable as to fact ... clear-eyed ... quickly moving ... Philip Roth seems as brightly peopled as a Victorian novel. ... What [Bailey] does superbly ... is chart Roth's sexual and emotional life, and map its effects on his work."
Michael Gorra, New York Review of Books

"Roth would approve of this biography, too, not because it's partial but because Bailey's industriousness is on a par with his own ... it's a miracle that he has published so lucid a book just three years after Roth's death―and one so packed with good anecdotes and jokes."
Blake Morrison, The Guardian

"[A] totemic and compulsively readable biography."
Christian Lorentzen, Bookforum

"'Magisterial' and 'definitive' ... don't do justice to Blake Bailey's years-in-the-making opus. ... Bailey meticulously conjures the career of one of America's literary titans, the devils and angels that shaped his work."
O, The Oprah Magazine

"Philip Roth, for all his flaws, for all that I know his legacy will continue to be judged in judgmental times and found wanting, deserves this riveting, serious and deeply intelligent biography."
David Baddiel, The Spectator

"Fascinating ... Bailey's utterly engrossing biography shows Roth led a life just as strange and intense as his fictionalized alter egos."
Tomiwa Owolade, Evening Standard

"Blake Bailey’s book is definitive. It’s also often funny, sometimes appalling, and always fascinating―like its subject."
Jacqueline Cutler, New York Daily News

"A stunning feat, this is as dynamic and gripping as any of Roth’s own fictions."
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"Excellent...evenhanded...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...An outstanding biography."
Kirkus (starred review)

"Fully authorized, comprehensive, and engrossing ... a consummate and unforgettable biography of a controversial, virtuoso, and indelible American writer."
Booklist (starred review)

"Philip Roth, to go with his legendary talent, was a lucky man. That streak continues with Blake Bailey’s charming, wise, and witty biography, which achieves a balance and comprehensiveness that shouldn’t have been possible so soon after Roth’s death."
Jonathan Lethem

Additional Praise for Blake Bailey's Philip Roth:
 
"A colorful, confident and uncompromising biographical triumph that, at more than 800 pages, also manages to be conversationally readable. ... no one writing about Roth will be able to sidestep this foundational biography."
― Alexander C. Kafka, Washington Post
 
"Magnificent ... Roth’s biography is a book Bailey seemed destined to write."
―Bryan Appleyard, Times of London
 
"Blake Bailey has done an absolutely superb job with the masses of material he had to work with, and with a very controlling subject. He manages to strike a sane and equable tone, and while he demonstrates a certain sympathy for Roth, he is nobody’s fool. The result is a detailed portrait of a man who is self-obsessed but generous and often kind; full of bile, yet, to many people, the funniest man they ever met; a devoted friend to many, an equally fervent foe to many others."
― Brooke Allen, The New Criterion
 
"Bailey has written the finest biography of his stellar career, striking a balance between Roth’s life and work, and he has meticulously traced the connections between the two with shrewdness, skill and sympathy. Yes, the preeminent novelist of frailty, carnality and mortality, the serial adulterer who picked up women in elevators, the writer who quarreled with critics, Philip Roth, lives."
― David Biespiel, Houston Chronicle
 
"Richly textured ... revelatory ... Philip Roth conjures the intellectually overpowering, sexually omnivorous, wounded, hilarious, monumental literary figure as fully as possible."
― Donald Weber, Jewish Book Council
 
"A magnificent book―sedulous, scrupulous, fair-minded, reassuringly elegant in tone―everything Roth ... could have hoped for."
― Christopher Bray, The Critic
 
"Magisterial."
― Eric Cortellessa, Washington Monthly
 
"Well-researched and engrossing."
― Mark Athitakis, USA Today
 
"Voluminously researched, good-humored, and honestly written. Readers will discover new information about Roth’s personal life and probably even learn about written works of his that they didn’t know existed."
― Dan Kubis, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
 
"Blake Bailey’s biography of Philip Roth is that rare sort of book, meticulous without sacrificing dramatic energy, endlessly entertaining without ever surrendering critical integrity, candid without forfeiting compassion. ... He presents Roth’s life and books with grace and unflinching honesty, connecting the man to the work in a way that makes each more compelling as the story proceeds. ... This book is not the tip of the iceberg but the iceberg itself."
― Michael Pearson, Virginian-Pilot
 
“Compelling and sympathetic ... wonderfully engaging ... Bailey’s many extended interviews with Roth and others supplement his research which the biographer weaves expertly so that we see, as Roth proclaims, how Art is Life ... a riveting read of a great American master."
― Paul Perry, Irish Independent
 

Library Journal

03/01/2021

In the years before his death in 2018, Philip Roth was often acclaimed as America's greatest living writer. In this comprehensive biography, Bailey (Cheever: A Life) takes on the task of untangling the details of the author's life from his often semi-autobiographical fiction. Bailey presents Roth as a talented and dedicated writer who is increasingly sensitive to his reputation. Driven by his ego and his libido, Roth's life was marked by his prolific literary output and his many romantic relationships. Bailey is a sympathetic biographer, often dismissive of charges of misogyny in Roth's writing and clearly favoring Roth's account of his fraught and highly publicized relationship with the actress Claire Bloom. This work is evidence of Bailey's exhaustive research and unique access to his subject; Roth selected Bailey as his biographer, and the two had extensive interviews in preparation for the book. VERDICT For an author like Roth, who put so much of his own life into his books, this biography is an essential companion to his novels, enabling readers to discover the true-life inspirations for many of his memorable characters and scenes. Recommended for readers who have read and enjoyed Philip Roth's fiction.—Nicholas Graham, Univ. of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Kirkus Reviews

★ 2021-01-06
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 Complaintand Sabbath’s Theaterinfuriated 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, Columbusas “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 Alicein 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."

Product Details

BN ID: 2940177067834
Publisher: Skyhorse Publishing
Publication date: 06/04/2021
Edition description: Unabridged
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