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Susan Sontag: The Making of an Icon Hardcover – July 17, 2000

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Known variously (and with varying degrees of kindness) as "the Beatnik Boadicea," "the Paganini of criticism " and "the most curious person alive," Susan SontagAcritic, novelist, playwright, filmmaker, public intellectualAhas consistently provoked awe, distrust, veneration and fear as one of the most perceptive, talented and controversial of American writers and thinkers. Although she has occupied a central place in the twin worlds of literary and popular culture since her influential first essays appeared in the Partisan Review in the early 1960s, this is the first full-length biography and one of the few critical studies of the author and her work. Rollyson and Paddock have unearthed a deluge of information on Sontag's personal lifeAon her early years and family life, her lesbianism (which she has only recently publicly acknowledged), her relationship with son David Rieff and her battles with breast cancer. While the authors provide an intelligent, though not strikingly original, analysis of her work, they are best at detailing how Sontag and her publishers have marketed her image as much as her thought. Often the book has a casual feel that undercuts its seriousness, and Rollyson and Paddock frequently seem willing to quote anyone who will criticize Sontag (Camille Paglia's remarks come off as petty and self-promoting). Yet in the end, this is a respectful, informed first look at an important writer's life. (July)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

The writer Susan Sontag has turned down very little publicity over the years since setting American criticism on its ear with her essay "On Camp" in 1964. But, while the authors of this first life of Sontag acknowledge her uneasiness with the possible disclosures of biography, perhaps this reluctance has more to do with a legitimate fear of being trivialized. Rollyson and Paddock are far more deft on the subject of Sontag's evolving celebrity and famously glamorous book jacket photos than on her contributions to cultural criticism (e.g., Against Interpretation, On Photography, Illness as Metaphor) or fiction (Death Kit, "The Way We Live Now," The Volcano Lover). The authors follow Sontag from her lonely, bookish childhood in Tucson, AZ, through her brilliant days at the University of Chicago and Harvard, early marriage and motherhood, divorce, life in Europe and New York, and journeys to China, Vietnam, Israel, and Sarajevo. The book sometimes has a tone of reluctant chattiness in discussing her literary rivalries or romantic quarrels with male and female lovers, and Sontag's lack of cooperation shows especially in the childhood sections that draw on published interviews. Her trademark hair turns up so often in the journalistic narrative that it gains a kind of sidekick status by book's end. An optional purchase, especially for libraries already owning A Susan Sontag Reader (1982).
-DNathan Ward, "Library Journal"
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1st edition (July 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393049280
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393049282
  • Product Dimensions: 0.6 x 0.1 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,139,997 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Carl Rollyson, Professor of Journalism at Baruch College, The City University of New York, has published more than forty books ranging in subject matter from biographies of Marilyn Monroe, Lillian Hellman, Martha Gellhorn, Norman Mailer, Rebecca West, Susan Sontag, and Jill Craigie to studies of American culture, genealogy, children's biography, film, and literary criticism. He has authored more than 500 articles on American and European literature and history. His work has been reviewed in newspapers such as The New York Times and the London Sunday Telegraph and in journals such as American Literature and the Dictionary of Literary Biography. For four years (2003-2007) he wrote a weekly column, "On Biography," for The New York Sun and was President of the Rebecca West Society (2003-2007). His play, THAT WOMAN: REBECCA WEST REMEMBERS, has been produced at Theatresource in New York City. Amy Lowell Anew: A Biography (awarded a "We the People" NEH grant) will be published in August 2013. . "Hollywood Enigma: Dana Andrews, a biography of Dana Andrews was published in September 2012 by University Press of Mississippi. His biography, "American Isis: The Life and Death of Sylvia Plath" was published in February 2013, the fiftieth anniversary of her death. In 2013, he also published Amy Lowell Anew: A Biography, and in 2014 Marilyn Monroe Day by Day. His biography/memoir A Private Life of Michael Foot will be published in August 2015. He is currently at work on two books, Memoirs of a Serial Biographer and a biography of William Faulkner. His reviews of biography appear regularly in The Wall Street Journal, The Minneapolis Star Tribune, The Raleigh News & Observer, The Kansas City Star, and The New Criterion. He is currently advisory editor for the Hollywood Legends series published by the University Press of Mississippi. He welcomes queries from those interested in contributing to the series. Read his column, "Biographology," and his blog on http://carlrollyson.com.
Watch the book trailer for Hollywood Enigma: Dana Andrews: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G7xyz9sL3HA
Watch the book trailer for American Isis: The Life and Art of Sylvia Plath: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M54HJRqrOlU
Audition script for NORMAN MAILER: THE LAST ROMANTIC: http://www.carlrollyson.com/_i_norman_mailer__the_last_romantic__i__113276.htm

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Suzinne Barrett VINE VOICE on March 11, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I enjoyed this book, and found that it was well written. Having just finished it, let me advise the potential reader that this book is slanted, and, for sure, Susan Sontag was not an individual to get warm and fuzzy with. Reading about her and her partner in her later life, Annie Leibowitz, I realized one thing: these two must have been the most insufferable lesbian couple ever. Both were so convinced of their own superiority, and both demanded that the world cow-tow to them for their specialness. Also, Sontag's son, who went on to edit his mother's work, also had the same sense of entitlement. For example, it is revealed that Susan's publisher, Robert Giroux, and her son would hound reviewers who were critical of her work. She seemed to believe she shouldn't have to suffer the same slings and arrows any other author would be subject to.

What I found most fascinating, and truly the strongest part of this book, were the stories revolving around various people in Susan Sontag's life. A much loved phrase of hers was "acquirement and disburdenment," which describes her pattern of dealing with people over the years. Four friends/fellow artists are revealed in some depth: fellow writers, Arthur Chesler and Camille Paglia, photographer, Peter Huyar, and box collage artist, Joseph Cornell. These were the most interesting people in the book, and these same people Ms. Sontag "acquired and disburdened." I was left wanting to know more about them, and this presents a problem when the peripheral characters prove more interesting than the subject of this book.
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7 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Dennis M. Patterson on August 21, 2000
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a book equal to its subject. Few intellectuals are as interesting as Susan Sontag, and the authors are fair and balanced in their presentation of the facts and controversies that make up the life of Sontag. The authors point to many facts that can only engender admiration of Sontag. For example, her fierce independence-- forsaking the safety of academic appointments to enhance her freedom to write on her own terms. Sontag's refusal to be labelled a "woman writer" or "lesbian writer" is a rejection of the simplistic logic of the "identity" crowd now so dominant in the academy. There is much to criticise in the life of Sontag (e.g., her fatuous embrace of the North Vietnamese) but far more to admire and emulate. Both authors and subject are better off for this book.
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Format: Hardcover
Well written and balanced. I have no ax to grind here...as a creature of the sixties I heard Sontag's name, of course, though she never really came through to me like other intellectuals/writers of the period, i.e. Gore Vidal, Truman Capote, William Buckley, Germaine Greer, Susan Faludi, Barbara Ehrenreich, Groucho Marx :). I've suffered through people like Sontag in my life, and thought the book was a testament to her instability and unfathomable need to take her place in the small, exclusionary group of writers and publishers in New York. I noticed that the book had no blurbs, and assumed from this that her friends and enemies alike were too afraid to put their name where they had left their scent. On balance I don't think I missed much when I missed Sontag, and yet here I am, mesmerized.
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13 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Marion Meade on July 7, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Carl Rollyson and Lisa Paddock have done an admirable job. It's hard to imagine a more delicious account of how a bright, imaginative girl from North Hollywood High manufactured and marketed herself as an international literary icon. To get at the truth, the authors have stripped off the gilt and the result is a startling portrait that is sure to generate controversy. This is a biography that is hard to put down.
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8 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Dennis M. Patterson on August 21, 2000
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a book equal to its subject. Few intellectuals are as interesting as Susan Sontag, and the authors are fair and balanced in their presentation of the facts and controversies that make up the life of Sontag. The authors point to many facts that can only engender admiration of Sontag. For example, her fierce independence-- forsaking the safety of academic appointments to enhance her freedom to write on her own terms. Sontag's refusal to be labelled a "woman writer" or "lesbian writer" is a rejection of the simplistic logic of the "identity" crowd now so dominant in the academy. There is much to criticise in the life of Sontag (e.g., her fatuous enbrace of Hanoi) but far more to admire and emulate. Both authors and subject are better off for this book.
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