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.
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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 ChristensenCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved