New York Times Bestseller
The renowned biographer’s definitive portrait of a literary titan.
Appointed by Philip Roth and granted independence and complete access, Blake Bailey spent years poring over Roth’s personal archive, interviewing his friends, lovers, and colleagues, and engaging Roth himself in breathtakingly candid conversations. The result is an indelible portrait of an American master and of the postwar literary scene.
Bailey shows how Roth emerged from a lower-middle-class Jewish milieu to achieve the heights of literary fame, how his career was nearly derailed by his catastrophic first marriage, and how he championed the work of dissident novelists behind the Iron Curtain.
Bailey examines Roth’s rivalrous friendships with Saul Bellow, John Updike, and William Styron, and reveals the truths of his florid love life, culminating in his almost-twenty-year relationship with actress Claire Bloom, who pilloried Roth in her 1996 memoir, Leaving a Doll’s House.
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.
About the Author
Blake Bailey is the author of biographies of John Cheever, Richard Yates, and Charles Jackson. He is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and an Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Francis Parkman Prize from the Society of American Historians, and a finalist for the Pulitzer and James Tait Black Prizes. His previous book, The Splendid Things We Planned, was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in Autobiography. He lives in Virginia with his wife and daughter.
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)
To have our most notable literary biographer tackle a man consistently listed among the planet’s master novelists is a monumental gift in the realm of international letters. Not only does Blake Bailey bring his famously scrupulous research to bear on this life packed with equal parts honor and scandal, he does so with economy and narrative force—all while working in elegant, unforgettable prose. As a friend of Roth late in his life, I rue certain stories detailed here. But Bailey also conjures in riveting, almost-holographic detail a man I loved quite literally to death, partly because he never bored me. I wept and railed, marveled and shook my fist at the sky. Just make me interesting, Roth asked of Bailey, and this unputdownable page-turner does just that.
— Mary Karr
Everything you ever wanted to know about Philip Roth you can discover in his novels. Everything you ever wanted to know about what it took to become one of the greatest American writers of our time, you will find in Blake Bailey’s breathtaking biography.
— Nicole Krauss
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