“Biographers have published dozens of books on Eugene O’Neill over the last 50 years in an attempt to explain the complexities of America's 20th-century ‘master playwright.’ What makes Diggins’s thoroughly researched effort particularly effective is his use of political, philosophical, social, psychological, and religious themes in his discussion of O’Neill’s life and plays within the context of a dynamic American society. Diggins begins with a narrative describing O’Neill’s troubled early personal life and follows with thematic chapters discussing the major influences on the playwright’s writing, from contemporary philosophers like Friedrich Nietzsche to the ancient Greek tragedians. Diggins generously illustrates each theme with multiple examples from O’Neill’s plays and correspondences. Particularly insightful are his comparisons of O’'Neill’s work with that of other great writers on the theme of American democracy, including Alexis de Tocqueville, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Abraham Lincoln. This book offers the reader a lot to think about, regarding not only O’'Neill’s life and work but also American society at large.”
"Shedding new light on the O'Neill canon, Diggins offers an einsightful examination of O'Neill's haunted past and the cultural background against which he wrote his plays. This is the first book this reviewer has encountered that fully explains how . . . 'O'Neill's writing traces a dark stain on American history.' "
"[The book] succeeds in placing O'Neill in the context of a body of philosophical, political, and historical thought, and it makes a convincing case for Diggins's contention that O'Neill was a prime example of what Eric Bentley has called the playwright as thinker."
(Brenda Murphy Journal of American History
About the Author
John Patrick Diggins is Distinguished Professor in the PhD Program at the Graduate Center, City University of New York. He is the author of several books, including, most recently, Ronald Reagan: Fate, Freedom, and the Meaning of History.