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The Life of Kingsley Amis Hardcover – April 24, 2007

3.7 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Leader delivers a scrupulously researched and unfailingly entertaining account of the life of one of postwar Britain's funniest and most famous writers. Amis (1922–1995) asserted that many writers lead dull lives, but his was especially high-spirited, particularly once he left his restrictive parents for Oxford and beyond. Known first as a poet, Amis began an academic career in Wales at University College of Swansea after marrying Hilary Bardwell (mother of his three children, including contemporary British writer Martin Amis), but his springboard to literary celebrity was the 1954 publication of the comic classic Lucky Jim. Leader (editor, 2001's The Letters of Kingsley Amis) combines exhaustive biographical detail with trenchant literary analysis for a complex, remarkable portrait of Amis and his work: his prodigious output (more than 40 books, including novels, poetry, anthologies and nonfiction), his notorious womanizing and boozing as well as his friendships, including his central relationship (illuminated by lively excerpts of correspondence) with poet Philip Larkin. This massive, splendid biography bears out Leader's contention that Amis was "a compelling person, a man of alarming appetites and energies, the funniest man most people had ever met, or the cleverest, or the rudest." 24 pages of b&w photos not seen by PW. (Apr.)
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From Bookmarks Magazine

Zachary Leader determined to have the final word on the life and work of one of Britain's most interesting and controversial literary figures, and his earlier edition of Kingsley Amis's correspondence gives him ample credentials. Despite the book's imposing heft, The Life of Kingsley Amis can be engaging and readable. Fans of Amis will appreciate Leader's comprehensive coverage, though some lengthy literary discussions can be heavy sledding. Jonathan Yardley points out that Eric Jacobs published a similar (albeit much briefer) book shortly after Amis's death, and he wonders if Leader's obsessive attention to detail somehow undermines the very goal of literary biography: to provide insight into a life that leads, ultimately, to a better understanding of a writer's work.

Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.


Product Details

  • Hardcover: 1008 pages
  • Publisher: Pantheon; 1st edition (April 24, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375424989
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375424984
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 2 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,313,912 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I love Amis' work and expect that he'll be read as long as literature has legs, but this bio requires a lot of stamina. It's all there: drinking, carousing, family life, contrarian politics, the wicked sense of humor. Leader did an enormous amount of research and doesn't pull punches about some serious character flaws. One thing that bugged me throughout was the implicit assumption that the books and poetry were autobiographical - besides being factually wrong, this drags things out unnecessarily.

If I was going to pick out a novel of Amis for the uninitiated, I'd have to make it 3 of them to show his versatility: "Lucky Jim", "The Alteration", and "Ending Up". But you wouldn't go wrong with "Take A Girl Like You", "Girl, 20", "The Anti-Death League", his collected short stories or any of his criticism.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This a hefty read -- there are relatively few biographies of literary figures that are as long. But, the length is worth it. Leader writes gracefully and interestingly about a man who often is hard to like but difficult not to admire. Most of us know Amis either as the author of "Lucky Jim" (book and movie) or as the father of the Booker Prize winner Martin Amis. Kingsley's career, however, is more important than those two claims to fame. He was one of the initiators of the Angry Young Men who had a major impact on English writing from the 1950s on. And, he brought back to English, and American poetry, an emphasis on accessibility to the average reader, although his effort is not always visible today. Further, he was the model of the hard-drinking, womanizing author that populates so much of popular fiction and film. In that story, we find a lot of what makes his life so sad as well as so interesting. And, this is an interesting book that takes you inside the creative process of writing and the destructive process of hard living.
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Format: Hardcover
To begin with I didn't like this book, in fact I put it away three times. This because of its style, I thought it humourless and pedantic.

In fact however Leader's style is down to a combination of academic virtuosity and prodigious research. Reading this, you get the feeling there is no-one who ever met Amis he hasn't talked to and made notes on. Consequently, during his account of any event in his life, you get references to different articles, conversations, references and asides that any number of acquaintances have come up with. Until you get used to it this makes the book very hard to read.

This is not the kind of biography where the author tells a story. Nor is it one where the author feels obliged to burden us with his opinions. But he does want to make sure we have understood the opinions of everyone who was involved at any time.

At no point is Leader analytical. When it comes to the difficulties or tragedies in Amis's life, we are spared sermons or even anything but his casual opinions. We are just told the story in unremitting - if appropriate - detail.

In the end I got enormous enjoyment, captivated by Amis's life. I got used to the style and it all flowed along. It was also easy to skip the odd page when the events discussed were not of interest without losing the rhythm.

I had read about eight of Amis's novels recently and wanted to know more about him and about his other works. This book works well for that as each book is discussed for itself and also situated in Amis's life.

The discussion of Amis's family life is rewarding and moving. You get the goods without being given the benefit of any moralising.

I don't read a lot of literary biographies, but I would have thought this a model.
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Format: Paperback
The Life of Kingsley Amis
By Zachary Leader

This biography of Kingsley Amis runs to nearly 1,000 pages, including notes, index and bibliography. It's the third Life in a little over ten years and the most inclusive. The research is meticulous, incorporating extracts from letters to Conquest, Larkin, Wain and others of the Angry Brigade. Included are passages from Amis's Memoirs, his novels and his poetry. Zachary takes the reader through every stage of his subject's life, from London to Oxford, to Wales, to America and back, giving hundreds of potted biographies en route, and illuminating both Amis's acerbic and his vulnerable side as man and writer.

For those who relished Amis's first novel Lucky Jim, this is a must. Zachary is amusing and informative on literary cabals, academic infighting, spicy gossip and scandal. If you manage to pick this book up you won't put it down easily. It offers book groups enough material for a year, a veritable treasure house for the Amis fan.
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