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Simone De Beauvoir: A Biography Hardcover – April, 1990

14 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This impressively researched biography by the author of Samuel Beckett is the most detailed account to date of the life and work of de Beauvoir (1908-1986). Based on many interviews, and discussing each of Beauvoir's works within the chronology of her life, Bair's magnum opus combines literary biography, intellectual and oral history and feminist theory, yet centers on de Beauvoir's extraordinary long relationship with Jean-Paul Sartre. Bair argues persuasively that de Beauvoir was affectionate, generous and witty, but also quirky, opinionated, witheringly honest and generally humorless. Awkard and ill-kempt, a woman who drank and cried to excess, she seemed unaware of her striking physical presence; she was nearly 40, contends the author, before she experienced an orgasm. Although never bound by the traditional constraints of marriage or family, she guarded Sartre jealously. Bair adds much to our knowledge of every aspect of de Beauvoir's life--her love affairs with Nelson Algren and Claude Lanzmann, her attitudes toward Camus, Giacometti, Koestler, Merleau-Ponty and many others--but, like Bair's own description of de Beauvoir's book on Sartre, the biography is sometimes "detailed to the point of inducing fatigue and boredom."
Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Bair, author of Samuel Beckett (a 1979 National Book Award winner), met with de Beauvoir for six years to compile this detailed biography of the writer best known for The Second Sex . She includes generous details about de Beauvoir's less attractive personal attributes (her slovenliness and self-centered behavior) and her questionable record during World War II. The book is an objective recording of events that shaped the life of a woman who, willingly, played down her own significant contributions to contemporary philosophical and political thought so as to remain Sartre's intellectual alter ego. Generous annotations document every chapter and provide material suggesting further research. An interesting, thought-provoking work that should dispel many myths, but Bair might well have given us a greater feel for the woman and emphasized her feminist stance.
- Danielle Mihram, Univ. of Southern California Lib.
Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 718 pages
  • Publisher: Summit Books (April 1990)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0671606816
  • ISBN-13: 978-0671606817
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.2 x 2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,145,239 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Stacey M Jones on July 12, 1999
Format: Paperback
Really, this book was a page-turner, a book of facts so well-written it made one want to know more, more, more, even when the knowing was almost painful out of de Beauvoir empathy. I wanted to read it as a companion to de Beauvoir's autobiographical series and was particularly grateful to Bair for pointing out incidents in which de Beauvoir "guilded the lily" when she recounted her own life. De Beauvoir's autobiography and this make perfect companions for a study on auto/biography and its subjectivication. (Also see Silent Woman by Janet Malcom.)
I had read previous biographical material on de Beauvoir, but none I ever felt was so complete, and helped me to know her so well. I strongly recommend this as history, literary criticism, psychology and philosophy.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 6, 1999
Format: Paperback
The value of this biography is that it adds new facts andcorrects some of SdB's own mis- representations of her life. But it'stoo repetitive, often concentrating on insignficant chronologies of her trips, etc. Lacks sufficient explanation of the stultifying catholic education she rejected early in her life (was it guilt-inducing jansenistic sexophobia, the doctrine of a caring God, etc) or of the basic existentialist tenets which guided her life, such as the self-creating life project, absolute responsiblity for choices, etc. Badly in need of a final summing up chapter listing and analyzing the very disparate opinions about the contradictions and import of this amazing woman, eg was it unfathomable tenderness or simply self-delusion that enabled her to transform the ecstasy she felt with Nelson Algren into the sublimest and most poignant love affair? In many aspects of her life SdB could be a example for many women, but after reading this book one is still left wondering how and why.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Knowledge Contagion on October 28, 2010
Format: Paperback
I read this biography because it was impossible for me to read Letters to Sartre without some assistance. I found myself completely engaged in this biography - it was a truly fascinating read. The chapters are usually less than 15 pages long, which I find makes for easier reading. There are extensive notes that expound upon statements, provide details of how others interpreted aspects of Simone's life and work, and site sources/references. It gets a little tedious going back and forth, but I'm glad Bair felt the need to include them.

Simone stated on numerous occasions - in interviews with Bair and in her autobiographies - that it was impossible to write about herself without writing about Sartre; this became quite clear early on because their lives were so intertwined. The story of their relationship is amazing - I found myself appalled, touched, envious, angered and saddened as I read about the progression of their friendship. While it's hard to sympathize with Simone, I found myself really disliking Sartre because it seemed like most of the time, all he did was take while Simone did nothing but give - which she seemed okay with, whether this is how she saw it or not.

The only reason I am not giving this biography five stars is that Bair relied on Simone extensively for information. Simone admitted herself that she wasn't 100% truthful/accurate in her autobiographies and memoirs and I believe she had a history of deceiving biographers. And apparently, she lied to Bair also.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Steven H Propp TOP 100 REVIEWER on December 22, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Deirdre Bair intereviewed de Beauvoir for five years, before producing this magisterial biography. Although de Beauvoir wrote four volumes of autobiography (Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter (Perennial Classics); The Prime of Life: The Autobiography of Simone De Beauvoir; Hard Times: Force of Circumstance, Volume II: 1952-1962 (The Autobiography of Simone de Beauvoir); All Said and Done), Bair's account give much that de Beauvoir herself left out.

De Beauvoir explains the origin of her "Beaver" ("Castor" in French) nickname, which was given to her by fellow student Rene Maheu in honor of her "prodigious work habits" (i.e., "You're a little beaver"). When Bair asked about de Beauvoir's possible romantic relationship with Maheu in these early days, "The question produced a thunderclap of anger: 'That is absolutely not true ... I never even kissed a man on the mouth then, never, never, never!"

Of course, de Beauvoir's relationship with Jean-Paul Sartre is chronicled in some detail. Bair deals frankly with de Beauvoir's deference to Sartre: "Simone de Beauvoir declared repeatedly for the rest of her life that Sartre's intellect was superior to her own, and her remarks have caused consternation and anger in equal parts among those who study her life and work.
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