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Pushkin: A Biography Hardcover – October 14, 2003

3.8 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This work won the Samuel Johnson nonfiction prize in Britain, and it's easy to see why: it's a fascinating treatment of an equally fascinating subject. By chronicling Pushkin's literary successes and his personal failures, Binyon draws a compelling portrait of the writer and his milieu. One of Russia's most celebrated authors, Pushkin (1799-1837) lived a life as captivating as his poems and stories. In fact, as British academic Binyon (Murder Will Out) shows in this landmark work, Pushkin interspersed snippets of his brief life in such work as Eugene Onegin and The Bronze Horseman. Displaying a broad knowledge of primary source material, Binyon details Pushkin's life, which has all the suspense of a good novel. A known womanizer in his early adult years (he was especially fond of married women), Pushkin later married and settled down. But his past came back to bite him when a man tried to seduce his wife. Although Binyon argues convincingly that the suitor was unsuccessful, the incident prompted a duel that caused Pushkin's death in his late 30s. While his life was full of controversy, he was accused of being both too reactionary and too liberal, it was not particularly happy. Even while he was churning out his masterpieces, he was prone to two weaknesses: depression and debt. This is a must-read for students of Pushkin and for those interested in 19th-century Russia and literary history.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

Nearly deified by Dostoevsky as Russia's literary messiah, Pushkin reclaims his mortality in this deeply humanizing biography. Oxford lecturer Binyon focuses his formidable scholarship not on Pushkin's luminous poetry but rather on his turbulent life. Indeed, readers will marvel that a creative titan could so frequently embarrass himself through dissolute behavior and bad judgment. Binyon particularly details the tangled amorous path that led Pushkin into marriage with a high-spirited beauty who mismanaged their household into chaos. Yet even when chronicling the poet's blunders, Binyon captures a dauntless personality, playful yet passionate. It will surprise many readers that Pushkin often expressed his playfulness in idle sketches of himself and contemporaries, many of which illustrate the text. But Pushkin's real artistic talent shines in the many passages of poetry that Binyon quotes to illuminate episodes in their creator's life. That Pushkin's life was cut short by a duel from which he could easily have withdrawn provides a tragic final illustration of the gap separating artistic genius from ordinary human discretion. Bryce Christensen
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 768 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; First Edition edition (October 21, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400041104
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400041107
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.6 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,618,514 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The book defies quick overall assessment. On one level it provides an extraordinary level of detail: one could learn, for example, how much, to the pound, the manager of the family Boldino estate was granted of: salt, peas, oatmeal, rice, butter etc. On the other hand, some basic information of the main protagonist remains unquestioned. For example as a child he is portrayed as having read mostly French books, but by the age of 13 he is assessed by one of his Lycée teachers as well read in Russian literature. The book is interspersed with Pushkin's drawings of the people from his milieu which, although mostly simple profiles, are good character sketches of their subjects. No comment accompanies them: neither, for example, on the origin of this skill, nor on what insight into Pushkin's personality they present. At the age of 7, it is said, Pushkin's character changed dramatically, but the book chooses not to reveal what exactly that dramatic change was. The book is rife with seemingly paradoxical statements. It is the transformation of a boy brought up by French tutors, who moreover wrote his first poem in French and had a nickname "French" in the Lycée into the preeminent Russian poet in Russian language. It is Pushkin's notorious laziness in the childhood and at school, which nevertheless did not prevent him from being remarkably educated in literary matters and displaying it in such works as "Onegin" or "Tales of Belkin". It is the source of inspiration for most of his major works. The reader is trusted to fill in the gaps on his own.
Marina Tsvetaeva, a "poet of genius" in Nabokov's words, in her essay "My Pushkin" wrote about the deeply intimate affect Pushkin had on her.
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2 Comments 29 of 34 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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Format: Hardcover
Now this is a thick book and very well-researched, too. I somewhat understand the author's desire to use his own translations, since this book has probably consumed a significant chunk of Mr.Binyon's time and effort. However, being able to read Russian certainly helps, since the translations are a bit uninspired (hey, I'm not saying I can do better though!). Nevertheless, I admire the amount of detail and research that has gone into this. There are maps and explanatory notes that are quite helpful, as well as quotations from a huge variety of sources. In addition, the narration is pleasant enough and not too stuffy. Then after about 70 pages I couldn't go on, even with the best intentions of reading it all...it simply got too overwhelming and repetitive. So, Pushkin went there, wrote this, saw this woman and lusted after her. Then in the next chapter, it repeats again, with mountains of detail. Maybe it's the genre, I don't know, but it gets a little dull after awhile. Mr. Binyon presents Pushkin as someone quite unlikeable - except for his poetry. That put me off too - can't blame the biographer much here though! In all, it's a very solid biography with OK translations that takes certain patience to get through. Hope I can finish this - might take me until retirement or so but it's on the shelf!
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
For me this book was amazing. I felt Pushkin, I was Pushkin, I lived and now love Pushkin. I'm very surprised no other people have praised this book. It brings you into the day to day dealings and troubles of this man. I felt him in me- he's sporadic, expressive, passionate, spontaneous and deadly. Its an all true tragedy written in fine detail accounts of his life and experiences with other people, how they saw him, and how he related. I ended in anger at Pushkin for what he ends up doing but I can't help but feel good about the passionate dumbly path he lays in life. I love you man.

Brett
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Format: Paperback
I was motivated to buy this book about Pushkin after listening in a BBC podcast a story about the way he died and for the fact that it is a Samuel Johnson prize. Half way through the book I did not feel comfortable. I felt that the level of detail provided was not interesting to me, i.e. the innumerable sequence of dinners with the names of the persons present really bored me...but I kept on -from that moment I avoided the footnotes which I rarely do. You finish up feeling that Pushkin was not a particularly good person who did not live a particularly interesting life but who must have written supremely good poetry (which the book of course do not cover). The book finishes, to me, in a high note. It was interesting to read about the circumstances that led to the his last duel, that part was worth the wait.
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