Bellow fans won't be surprised by the details of Bellow's life, many of which are familiar from his novels and essays: youthful Trotsky clubs; waiting to be called up into WWII; lifelong enthusiasm for anthropology, philosophy, European literature, and other Great Books; sarcastic wit that verges on the malicious; friendships and rivalries with Delmore Schwartz, Isaac Rosenfeld, Edward Shils, Allan Bloom, Ralph Ellison, and other literati; innumerable wives, lovers, divorce lawyers, child-custody battles, and alimony struggles; big-shot brothers who disparage intellectuals; and of course, his beloved city of Chicago. Atlas, himself a Chicago native from the generation behind Bellow, covers all of this with patience and considerable authority, balancing Bellow's lively, fictionalized accounts with a helpful amount of historical background.
Atlas is also very good at establishing parallels between the tone of Bellow's novels and his mood at the time of writing them. Often the two are so closely intertwined it's not clear which came first: the freewheeling style of The Adventures of Augie March, for example, or the exhilarating period in Bellow's life that accompanied it. ("The book just came to me," Bellow wrote. "All I had to do was be there with buckets to catch it.") Similar parallels include the Flaubertian perfectionism of the early novels, the cuckold's outrage that inspired Herzog, the fame and loss that pervade Humboldt's Gift, the despair of The Dean's December, and the senescent recollection of The Actual and Ravelstein.
In a preface, Atlas, who is also the editor of the Penguin Lives biography series, describes the most discerning biographies as those "imbued with a profound sympathy for their subject's foibles and failings--imbued, to put it plainly, with love." One suspects that Atlas began this biographer-subject marriage with more love than remained when he finished; his disappointment with Bellow's character flaws (such as Bellow's tendency to portray himself as a blameless victim and his stubbornly anachronistic attitude toward women) is palpable. But his criticism of Bellow the man is always measured, and it has the nice effect of placing some of the more unsavory elements of Bellow's fiction in a kind of context. Bellow might not inspire a complete rethinking of Bellow's work, but it's a compelling reminder of its many pleasures. --John Ponyicsanyi --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
The biography is a marvelous journey. I was first turned on to Bellow when I picked up a paperback copy of Humboldt's gift about 30 years ago. Read morePublished on February 1, 2013 by Michael G. Steele
This is an enormously readable, brilliantly written Life of Saul Bellow. It beautifully fulfills the main requirment of a biography, that it bring its subject back to life. Read morePublished on November 18, 2012 by Richard Robertson
Why on earth was this book published in the first place? It is clear from the off that James Atlas has a grudge against Saul Bellow - based on no other reason that he is bitterly... Read morePublished on June 23, 2007 by Sirin
I thought that I would love this book because I love the work of Bellow,and love literary biographies. But the book proved to be too much of a good thing. Read morePublished on November 28, 2004 by Shalom Freedman
For some reason many of the authors we read are very interesting people, more interesting then the books they write. Dickens and Hemingway to name just a few. Read morePublished on December 25, 2002 by Kim F. Hill
This biography of one of America's greatest writers is a colossal joke. Atlas takes pot shots at Bellow througout the book and actually attempts to psychoanalyze him several... Read morePublished on May 25, 2001 by steelkilt
Saul Bellow is an icon. Deconstructing an icon has a price, and Atlas risks it bravely. For the most part, he succeeds. Read morePublished on May 25, 2001 by "50cent-haircut"
I liked other works by James Atlas and so ran out and bought this book as soon as it came out. I was so disappointed, since Atlas writes with a subtext of superiority--amend that:... Read morePublished on May 18, 2001
James Atlas has complained that the reviews for this biography have been heterogenous, noncommittal and inconclusive, as well as self-contradictory. Read morePublished on May 17, 2001 by Don Briago@aol.com