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Albert Camus: A Life Paperback – March 9, 2000


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press (March 9, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0786707399
  • ISBN-13: 978-0786707393
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,235,836 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Olivier Todd's biography of Albert Camus matches its subject's depth by portraying the man as well as the moralist. Born in Algeria and raised in poverty by an illiterate mother, Camus never forgot where he came from. He made his name in Nazi-occupied Paris--publicly as the author of The Stranger and The Myth of Sisyphus, covertly as a member of the Resistance and editor of its newspaper, Combat--but he longed for the North African sun of his youth. During the years of crisis when Algeria struggled to break free from France, Camus alienated both colonialists and revolutionaries by supporting full equality for Arabs but denouncing terrorism. "I believe in justice," he told an Algerian heckler at a 1957 meeting he addressed in Stockholm after winning the Nobel Prize. "But I will defend my mother before justice." It is this preference for the concrete over the abstract that makes Camus such an appealing thinker. Todd's biography, which offers the most fully human depiction yet, is equally engaging. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

There are very few biographies as meticulously researched as this one by journalist and author Todd (Cruel April, LJ 8/90). In some cases, the research leads to stretches of very tedious reading, but the book's smooth narrative flow mostly prevents that and makes for a rich description of Camus's life in colonial Algiers, wartime Paris, and his relationship with his immediate family, wives, and lovers. Todd's use of personal correspondence, interviews with family members, and previously unused public records reveals a complex man who was a philosopher, novelist, literary editor, and journalist slowly dying of tuberculosis and at odds with fellow French intellectuals over his political beliefs. Set against the historical background of French North Africa, Occupied France, and the postwar Paris literary scene, Camus vividly comes to life almost 40 years after his tragic death in an automobile accident. Recommended for specific collections.
-?David Lee Poremba, Detroit P.L.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

An exceptional job of research and writing.
Bob Chabot(rchabot@ibm.net)
Discovering the huge gap in quality between this translation and the gigantic original after I was already halfway through the English version was frustrating.
A. J. Sutter
The fact that Camus was such a crystalline writer only makes this book seem like more of an insult.
Jonathan

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

20 of 20 people found the following review helpful By A. J. Sutter on September 1, 2008
Format: Paperback
As other reviewers have noted, this is an abridgement of the French version. And it is a bad one. Contrary to one of the other reviewers, though, I don't think the fault is with the French original.

For one thing, the abridgement makes Camus so boring and unsymapthetic for the first 1/3 of the book, that it's tempting to put the book down. This section is where the translator and his editors threw away the most material: the 1/3 mark in the translation is more like the 1/2-way point in the French original. The result is a forced march of events and girlfriends, without much description of local character or humanizing incident.

Unfortunately even the part of the book dealing with the adult Camus is stripped of a lot of meaningful material. For example, some amusing anecdotes about the local residents were edited out of Chapter 25, which describes Camus's wartime stay in a rural area of France.

Moreover, the translation itself has some weird quirks. One is the persistent reference to C.'s notebooks as "Carnets", presented as if this were a book title. Notebooks of French writers should become capital-C and italicized "Carnets" only when they're edited and published. If you're talking about what an unknown (in fact, unpublished) writer wrote in his notebooks, then you should say "notebooks" or, as Todd does in the French original, "carnets" without italics. Yet translator Ivry uses italicized "Carnets" throughout.

Another irritation is that sometimes it would have been better to leave some stuff in French and hang a footnote. E.g., in Chapter 25, the biographer talks about Camus's friendship with another French writer, Francis Ponge.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Michael Gutierrez-May (Mikegtz@aol.com) on June 26, 1998
Format: Hardcover
Olivier Todd has compiled an excellent, thorough and captivating account of the life of Albert Camus. I was particularly impressed with this book's detail and accounting of Camus' s life in Algeria before moving to France. If there is any criticism I might have, it is that there is not enough detail about his last years. For a book that is filled with interviews, details and anecdotes from those who knew Camus, wanting even more information is a bit of a complement. I always suspected that Camus's personal life was a complicated one and this book confirmed that. I read it over a ten day period and didn't really want it to end. Wonderful job!
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful By T. Baughman on May 25, 2003
Format: Hardcover
The only real problem I have with this book was that the American edition has been abridged. Over 150 pages have been cut. As a result much of the portrait of Camus as a philosopher has been deleted. So I would recomend reading the French edition if at all possible
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By R. M. Peterson TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on July 6, 2010
Format: Paperback
When published in French in 1996, "Albert Camus: une vie" was, by consensus view, the most comprehensive and objective biography of Albert Camus to date. This English translation was published the next year. Unfortunately, when translated into English, Todd's original French biography also was abridged - "unfortunately" because I sense that the abridgement was clumsy. I suspect that much of the cropping occurred in the first part of the book, dealing with Camus's life from his birth in Algeria in 1913 until his move to Paris in 1941, since the first third of this biography (through 1941) is annoyingly choppy and poorly organized. Around page 130 the quality of this English version of ALBERT CAMUS: A LIFE improves.

Even so, the biography is on the dry side. The writing is only so-so -- but then, that too might be due at least in part to the translation. As a biography, it is more a collection than a synthesis; Todd inclines more to presenting facts and quoting others' assessments of Camus than he does to offering his own analysis and commentary. A real strength of this biography is that Todd does not succumb to hero-worship. Compared to two other works about Camus biographical in nature that I have read or skimmed, Todd is not blind to, nor does he gloss over, Camus's personal weaknesses and defects of character. Another strength of this biography is how it highlights people and events in Camus's life that he worked into various of his novels and plays. In the end, I applaud this biography for its objectivity, though I also fault how the workmanlike tone and approach virtually strips all sense of warmth for the book's subject.

Yet another notable aspect of this biography is its occasional gossipy tidbits, though they always are presented in a dead-pan manner.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Matthew Schultz on August 25, 2000
Format: Hardcover
If you want camus' angle on his life, read the first man, if you want an outsiders opinion, oliver todd is as good as it gets. Todd is a stickler for detail which is what anyone reading a biography really wants, so it's a must read on my list
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Melissa L. Rossi on March 5, 2011
Format: Paperback
My feelings are mixed, possibly due to omissions in this version. While NOT "captivating," Todd's work is (mostly) solid and contains great detail; he even captures some of Camus's humor, often ignored.

Where this book suffers: the inadequate framework for understanding Camus in the 50's -- when intellectual France was pro-Communism, and Camus stuck out his neck and denounced what Moscow was doing. This was radical in Paris. While Todd documents that Camus was trashed, he glosses over the back story: leading the smear campaign were Camus's former "bonnes amies" -- intellectual heavyweights Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. Todd hints at this, but portrays Sartre (p. 310) as not a Communist.

Sartre and de Beauvoir were certainly LOUD cheerleaders--sponsored to travel to the Soviet Union and writing cheery reports. Camus called them on it: he was upset about the gulags and forced Sovietization of territories, but they maintained it was necessary for communism to take hold, which is where their breach began. This is really skirted over in this edition. Until 1956 (when Moscow brutally crushed the revolt in Hungary, thousands literally crushed under the tanks) when Sartre was forced to condemn Moscow, he had been loudly pooh-poohing Camus's anti-Communist stance; even afterwards, Sartre remained was Marxist.

Todd does not adequately capture how utterly devastated Camus was over this betrayal by his ex-friends Sartre and de Beauvoir, who also led the condemnation of Camus when he won the 1957 Nobel Prize for literature: Sartre so trashed the award, that when HE won the Nobel in 1964, he was obliged to reject it (though rumor has it he asked if he could have the prize money anyway).
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