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Essays in Biography Hardcover – October 16, 2012


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Editorial Reviews

Review

The acclaimed essayist . . . presents a provocative collection of essays that [are] . . . guaranteed to both delight and disconcert. (Kirkus Reviews, July 2012)

Erudite . . . eloquent . . . opinionated . . . edifying and often very entertaining. (Publishers Weekly, July 2012)

The joys of reading Joseph Epstein are many. . . . Readers consistently find wit, whimsy, and learning at the most accessible and enjoyable level. --Larry Thornberry, The American Spectator, October 1, 2012 (Larry Thornberry The American Spectator, October 1, 2012)

Mr. Epstein’s essays are brilliant distillations . . . [which] bring to biography a genius of discernment. (Carl Rollyson Wall Street Journal, October 6, 2012)

About the Author

Joseph Epstein is a long time resident of Chicago. Joseph Epstein has taught English and writing at Northwestern for many years. He is the author of 22 books, many of them collections of essays, and has also written for numerous magazines including the New Yorker, The Atlantic, and Commentary.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 603 pages
  • Publisher: Axios Press; y First printing edition (October 16, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 160419068X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1604190687
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.6 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #643,009 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

JOSEPH EPSTEIN is the author of the best-selling Snobbery and of Friendship, as well as the short story collections The Goldin Boys and Fabulous Small Jews, among other books, and was formerly editor of the American Scholar. His work has appeared in The New Yorker, Harper's Magazine, the Atlantic Monthly, and other magazines.

Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

37 of 41 people found the following review helpful By Great Book Guru on October 9, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition
Joseph Epstein's ESSAYS IN BIOGRAPHY is made up of 39 short (15 to 20 page) character sketches of 19th and 20th century icons with a quick dip into the 18th century (George Washington) and the 5th Century BCE (Xenophon). Politicians form one category- Adlai Stevenson's story titled "The Man Who Couldn't Say Yes" was particularly memorable, showing a man in constant conflict with his strong moral compass and weak political skills. Literary figures are treated less kindly- Gore Vidal is pummeled with "his essays are the intellectual equivalent of the comics." Athletes fare much better-Michael Jordan's piece is particularly adulatory. Epstein calls him "the reincarnation of Achilles without the sulking and without the heel." Start with any one of the forty and you will quickly become enmeshed in a sometimes brutally critical, sometimes outrageously funny , but always fascinating take on a life. Very good read!
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23 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Steven J. Ceresnie on October 22, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If I didn't know better, I would swear that Joseph Epstein oils each word in his book so your eyes keep gliding through so much content --- that a half-hour of reading takes five minutes.

Joseph Epstein's "Essays in Biography" examines the details of the lives of people classified into four categories:

1. Americans: such as George Washington, George Santayana, Adlai Stevenson, Saul Bellow, Irving Howe. Susan Sontag - and more.

2. Ennglishmen: such as Max Beerbohm, T.S. Elliott, Maurice Bowra, and Isaiah Berlin - and more.

3. Popular Culture: such as Alfred Kinsey, Charles Van Doren, W.C. Fields, Joe DiMaggio, Michael Jordan, Michael Gladwell - and more.

4. And Others: such as Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Erich Heller, and Matthew Shanahan --- Mr. Epstein's friend who he dedicated this book too.

Unless you are taking a nap while reading these essays, it is impossible not be enertained, educated, discover dashes of humor often mixed with peppery quotes and dishes of juicy gossip. When Mr. Epstein brings to life these characters --- you feel like you are sitting down with an old wise friend who knows these people and lets you in on the twists and turns in the labyrinths of their minds.

Mr. Epstein has a talent for just the right turn of phrase to capture a quirky personality trait, or get across the endless mysteries of how experiences may shape minds. Mr. Epstein is allergic to psychoanalytic and pop psychology pseudo- explanations that some docs say make people tic. He knows that the more abstractions we apply to explain peoples' lives, the more reality leaves the room.

There is so much to enjoy, laugh about and learn in these wonderful essays.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Richard K. Mason on February 19, 2014
Format: Hardcover
There are those, including I think some of the Amazon reviewers, and certainly two persons of my acquaintance whom I love dearly, who do not "like," or will not read, Joseph Epstein, largely if not solely because of his politics and/or his political metamorphosis. That is to say, his well known move from the Left to the Right. They were for him before they were against him. One of the Amazon reviewers, while noting how well written the book is, nevertheless recommends that only political conservatives read this fine book. That's too bad. Are we to not read excellent things that might actually be enjoyable or informative, solely because of the politics of the writer, or because an occasional political judgement with which we disagree is rendered? I might agree if the book were bad. But if it is admittedly good? Are we to read only those books with which we think we agree?

In any event, this is the first book I read last year upon my retirement. It is absolutely enjoyable, informative, and entertaining. Political judgments are present, honestly stated, but do not predominate. What predominates are fascinating and insightful short biographies of a wide range of persons, often those with whom Mr. Epstein had an acquaintance. His insider information is quite valuable in these sketches. And his humor throughout is wonderful. (His concluding paragraph on Alfred Kinsey is hilarious and worth the price of the book.) I loved the book and highly recommend it.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By W. R. Nelson on January 9, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I've long enjoyed Mr. Epstein's essays in the Wall Street Journal, as well as some of his other books (e.g., Snobbery and Friendship, an Expose), but this volume is an exceptionally good read. I liked it so much that I gave Kindle versions of the book as Christmas gifts to some "impossible to buy for" friends with happy results.

Epstein covers a wide range of notable people in this book with both insight and humor. I found that even when I might not agree with his take on certain people, his viewpoint challenged my own "take" on those people such that I often walked away with new insights.

Well worth your time.
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66 of 97 people found the following review helpful By David Warren on October 27, 2012
Format: Hardcover
A disappointing and annoying book. Most of these "essays in biography" are nothing more than book reviews of biographies by other writers, published in newspapers or magazines as far back as the 1960's. Mr. Epstein fails to disclose when the reviews were written but internal clues give away their age. Some are thoroughly outdated and no longer have even historical interest -- for example, a tedious piece on Henry Luce written 40 or more years ago, when Time magazine arguably still had some importance. Other pieces are more recent but lack intrinsic merit, such as the review of a memoir by James Wolcott, a sometimes amusing but ultimately trivial pop culture critic for Vanity Fair magazine. (You know something is out of whack when a biographical series lumps together Xenophon and George Washington with James Wolcott and Malcolm Gladwell.)

In addition to their wildly uneven topics, Mr. Epstein's reviews too often reach the level of high school book reports, with obvious padding -- for example, a long list of T.S. Eliot's most "memorable" lines; a multi-page summary of Cyril Connolly's "Enemies of Promise."

Then there are Mr. Epstein's pretensions and verbal tics. He overuses -- and misuses -- words such as "ineluctable," "sedulous," and "eschew." (One of the ugliest words in the English language, "eschew" is a sure sign of a pompous writer who can't or won't speak plainly.) He apparently doesn't know the difference between "epithet" and "epitaph." And although he was raised and educated in Chicago and has spent his entire career there, Mr. Epstein affects the Oxbridge manner, with Britishisms like "putting paid to" putting in far too many appearances. (He also seems overawed by connections to Harvard, Yale, or Princeton.)

Perhaps most irritating of all, Mr.
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