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Somerset Maugham: A Life Paperback – April 12, 2005


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (April 12, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400030528
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400030521
  • Product Dimensions: 8.1 x 5.2 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 2.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,450,765 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The long-lived and highly prolific Maugham (18741965) finds a sympathetic biographer in the similarly productive Meyers (George Orwell, etc.). This inveterate traveler was marked as a wanderer by his Parisian birth and early orphanhood-he journeyed from Europe and America to the South Seas and the Far East-and he was a natural for the secret service in civil war Russia. Maugham's largely unhappy existence culminated in unfulfilling luxury in exile, elusive critical approval in England and embittered misanthropy. After becoming a bestselling author and popular playwright, Maugham stayed away from England, as much to avoid its tax code as to conduct his secretive sex life away from draconian laws against homosexuality. Since Maugham preferred basing his work on real events from his travels and real people from his social circle, his biographer must provide plot summaries and decode identities. While this could be cruelly obvious, as in the reputation-wrecking portrait of the novelist Hugh Walpole in Cakes and Ale, Meyers finds a match for Of Human Bondage's Mildred in Maugham's one-time companion Harry Philips, and, in general, he diligently collates fiction and fact. While Maugham was clearly important in the literary world, Meyers's high estimation of him, compared with his rivals and betters such as Ernest Hemingway, D.H. Lawrence and Joseph Conrad, is not fully convincing. Maugham's characteristically harsh but accurate verdict on his own position as "in the very first row of the second-raters" trumps Meyers's praise and reassessment, but Meyers does show how Maugham maintained, through determination as much as talent, the longest successful career in English letters. 55 photos.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From The New Yorker

A plainspoken craftsman of short stories and popular novels, and a dramatist, screenwriter, and essayist, Somerset Maugham had one of the most versatile—and lucrative—careers of any literary writer of the twentieth century. He also had an eventful life; during the First World War, he served as a British agent, and his travels took him to the Far East and the South Seas, where much of his best work is set. Despite his cosmopolitan sheen and his financial success—he lived in style on the French Riviera—he suffered at the hands of critics; Edmund Wilson dismissed him as a "half-trashy novelist." Meyers, however, mounts a persuasive defense of Maugham's art, keenly mapping his influence on V. S. Naipaul, George Orwell, and Paul Theroux.
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

More About the Author

Jeffrey Meyers is the author of Edgar Allen Poe: His Life and Legacy , Hemingway: Life into Art , Gary Cooper: An American Hero, Bogart, Edmund Wilson, and Joseph Conrad. He lives in California.

Customer Reviews

He thinks that the novel is one of Maugham's finest but writes such a nonsense about it.
Alexander Arsov
Maugham is one of the best authors of the 20th C. and Mr. Meyers not only does an excellent job summing up his life but a notable job analyzing his works.
B. Khosrowshahi
I rated this 3 stars only because I found too much pronoun confusion and a little bit of chronological confusion.
Therese D. Barry

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

33 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Tom Moran on March 24, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Jeffrey Meyers is a prolific biographer of literary figures whose books are hit-and-miss - while never less than professional, they are sometimes excellent and sometimes disappointing, depending on the rapport that Meyers has with his subject. But they are always marked by his remarkable industry and erudition. I've enjoyed most of them very much, and his last book, on George Orwell, was excellent.
I'm delighted to say that his new book on W. Somerset Maugham is just as good. It's possible that Meyers feels a rapport with Maugham because, like his subject, Meyers is fantastically prolific and not given his due by the intelligentsia. Whatever the reason, this is an excellent biography of an underrated writer, and immediately becomes the standard life of its subject.
Maugham was a very fertile writer and, like anyone who writes a lot, his production is uneven. Some of his books -- "Of Human Bondage" and "Cakes and Ale" come to mind -- will live as long as any English novels of the last century. Others, such as his historical novel about Machiavelli, "Then and Now," which Edmund Wilson used to unfairly trash his entire body of work in a 1946 New Yorker review, will most likely be forgotten. But Maugham wrote brilliantly in virtually every genre, from the essay to the spy story (his "Ashenden" had a noticeable influence on Ian Fleming's creation James Bond) to the travel book to plays (he once had four plays on the West End at once -- a feat that's been seldom duplicated) to the novel and short story, and the best of his work will live. Meyers illuminates his life with understanding and tact, and avoids (or at least does his best to downplay) the prurient detail so indulged in by other, more sensational biographers (Ted Morgan leaps to mind).
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By R. J. Marsella on July 8, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Over the years W. Somerset Maugham has become one of if not my favorite author. His Novels, plays and short stories capture his time and social circumstances perfectly. He is the consumate Edwardian writer.
Jeffrey Meyer has produced a great biography that combines well researched details of Mauham's personal life with analysis of his work from various periods of his long and prolific career.
This is a wonderful biography, that fully immerses the reader in the world of Maugham as a writer and a man who had obvious shortcomings but yet emerges from this as a sympathetic character. There is much here for the fan of Maugham that will illuminate some of his better known characterizations as being based on individuals in his life.
Overall I found this to be a highly readable and very enjoyable literary biography and I will be sure to check out more of Meyers' work as well as revisit some of Maugham's as a result of having read this.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Alexander Arsov on October 18, 2009
Format: Kindle Edition
Jeffrey Meyers

Somerset Maugham: A Life

Alfred A. Knopf, Hardback, 2004.
8vo. xvi, 411 pp. First Edition.

-------------------------------------------------'

I wish I could give more credit to this book because it is relatively enjoyable read and contains lots of interesting biographical data about Somerset Maugham. It is also researched well. But I cannot give more than one star and now I will try to explain why that is so.

Mr. Meyers has a lot of judgments about both Maugham's work and personality which don't seem to rest on any foundation. And who cares of his personal opinion? Despite his relatively positive attitude toward Maugham he indulges very often in futile comparisons with Conrad and Lawrence about their putative influence over Maugham. It seems that Maugham is nothing more than a 'Conradian' projection, or maybe a bunch of D. H. Lawrence's ideas. He thinks that he knows every thought that has ever occurred to Maugham and everything about developing his characters. But all these are just speculations - nothing more, nothing less, and completely useless.

Have we read the same Maugham books? Sometimes I am inclined to think that Maugham biographers have never read any of his books, or at least never read them seriously. They think that all in Maugham's life was determined by hate for his wife and trying to conceal his homosexuality. This may have been so, I don't know, but many of their conclusions about the influence of these two factors over his oeuvre are simply ridiculous. Back to Mr Meyers.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By B. Khosrowshahi on November 11, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Maugham is one of the best authors of the 20th C. and Mr. Meyers not only does an excellent job summing up his life but a notable job analyzing his works. Through this meandering work we are able to learn much about Maugham as a person (some of which I did not care to know as it shattered my image of him) and about his private life. The book alo does an excellent job charcterising [...]. All in all a worthwhile book.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Carlo Matthews on October 8, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
"Finally," I thought, "an updated bio on Maugham," some of whose works I love and have taught. I bought and read this shortly after it was published and still feel irked whenever I come across it at home. I'll just have to throw it away, Meyers.

Besides the toneless and hurried writing style which never rises above the perfunctory, the book is riddled with flaws exposing an alarming degree of incompetence. Much of the bio, for example, consists of mere summaries of Maugham's major and even not-so-major works. After reading a few of these -- one placed right after the other -- I realized that I had fallen for a scam. And then came confirmation. Meyers even gets the stories wrong!!! He hasn't read them, or finished them, or can't remember. Take your pick. In any case, the result is just as dire.

Forget any hint of analysis, serious research, history of criticisim, or anything besides the well-known facts of Maugham's life. Just a faceless cut'n'paste hack job. As the reviewer before me mentioned, Meyers has written many biographies, and I shudder to think how he butchered their subjects.

Shame on you Jeffrey Meyers.
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