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Joe Gould's Secret Paperback – December 7, 1999

4.1 out of 5 stars 30 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"This book is an original. I can think of absolutely nothing like it."--Doris Lessing

"A little masterpiece of observation and storytelling."--Ian McEwan

"Joseph Mitchell is one of our finest journalists, unique in his compassion and understanding for the haunted little lost men such as Joe Gould. He transforms a forlorn, intolerably pathetic gentleman panhandler into an engaging, Dickensian orphan rogue."--Dawn Powell, The Washington Post (1965) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Now a major motion picture starring Ian Holm, Hope Davis, and Stanley Tucci, who also directs.
Joseph Mitchell was a legendary New Yorker writer and the author of the national bestseller Up in the Old Hotel, in which these two pieces appeared. What Joseph Mitchell wrote about, principally, was New York. In Joe Gould, Mitchell found the perfect subject. And Joe Gould's Secret has become a legendary piece of New York history.
Joe Gould may have been the quintessential Greenwich Village bohemian. In 1916, he left behind patrician roots for a scrappy, hand-to-mouth existence: he wore ragtag clothes, slept in Bowery flophouses, and mooched food, drinks, and money off of friends and strangers. Thus he was able to devote his energies to writing "An Oral History of Our Time," which Gould said would constitute "the informal history of the shirt-sleeved multitude." But when Joe Gould died in 1957, the manuscript could not be found. Where had he hidden it? This is Joe Gould's Secret.
"[Mitchell is] one of our finest journalists."--Dawn Powell, "The Washington Post
"What people say is history--Joe Gould was right about that-- and history, when recorded by Mitchell, is literature."--"The New Criterion

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 210 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (December 7, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375708049
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375708046
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #307,647 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Joe Gould's Secret, crafted by Mitchell from what originally ran as a Profile piece in New Yorker magazine, brings concise focus to the sprawling humanity of New York through the very-real biography of one Joe Gould.
Mitchell's Gould--a real-life, Harvard-educated eccentric from the best of New England's Brahmin families--winds up as a celebrated Greenwich Village low-life and a self-described 'last of the Village Bohemians'.
Gould's knack for mixing with the hodge-podge of 1940-50's Village inhabitants (including the famous ee cummings and Mitchell himself, among others) and his quixotic and never-ending scribbles and rants comprising his well-known 'Oral History' project, boils the now-long-gone New York of the era down to its core essentials in the form of a single inhabitant's day-to-day struggles for survival and immortality in an all-too-human town. In the end, as we weep for Gould, we weep for the NYC now gone...a well-executed snapshot of the era.
R. Fields
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Format: Paperback
Reading anything by Joseph Mitchell is like finding buried treasure and reading "Joe Gould's Secret", a fascinating profile of a well-known Greenich village eccentric, is well worth your time. Joe Gould was, for upwards of thirty-five years, a homeless dropout living from day to day on his wits and handouts from any sympathetic ear, whether friends or strangers, surviving on a diet of fresh air, dog-ends, strong black coffee, fried egg sandwiches and bottles of diner-bar ketchup supped off a plate. ("the only food I know that's free of charge") The two parts of the book, headed Professor Seagull, and Joe Gould's Secret, first appeared in the New Yorker in 1942 and 1964.

The son of a medical practitioner, Harvard-educated Gould arrived in New York in 1916 and soon dismissed all thought of holding down a steady job when he had a flash of inspiration to write what he called "An Oral History of Our Times". Over many years, Gould would add daily to this work "in progress", all he had to show for himself, even when badly hung over; loading his fountain pen in the Village post office, scribbling in grubby, dog-eared school exercise books in public parks, doorways, cafeterias, Bowery flophouses, subway trains and in public libraries as he struggled to get his thoughts down on paper. Some of these hangouts also served as places to doss - alternatives to the floor of an artist friend's studio or a subway station. 270 filled notebooks had been stored in numerous drops for safekeeping until the work was completed.

Mitchell, intrigued by the "Oral History" idea, wrote a compassionate profile of Gould showing much patience and sensitivity in his dealings with his subject with whom he spent an inordinate amount of time.
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Format: Paperback
The first sketch that Joseph Mitchell made of Joe Gould, "Professor Seagull," primarily a simple exposition of a bohemian character that the New Yorker and its readers found to be an entertaining piece about an eccentric who claims to be writing an oral history, a book containing so many pages that it would dwarf the author if neatly stacked up. A work that would place the title of grand historian on Joe Gould, this so called Oral History was said to contain not just the usual dates and names of what people think of as history, but the over-heard conversations of the common man as well as scribbles lifted from park benches and washroom walls that Gould deemed to be more telling of history than the formal history taught in primary and secondary institutions. Mitchell infused this first work with witticisms and anecdotes that placed Gould in a more positive light than what is revealed about the man in the second story. There are many parallels in both stories; the opening paragraphs in both stories almost mirror each other but for a few telling and well-placed words, but for the most part, the second story gives the true definition of the character Joe Gould. The second story, "Joe Gould's Secret" gives the reader a different view of the same man. This version lifts the mask from the faces of the author and subject, exposing the truth that is not entirely based on fact. Here, Gould is shown to the reader with all faults and disagreeable characteristics intact. The feisty little homeless bohemian has turned into a scavenging, begging, egregious bum dead set on getting the attention or money he craves, and acts like a child when he does not get what he wants.Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover
In hindsight, I am a bit shy to admit that I first learned of Joseph Mitchell through the made-for-TV version of this story. Trusting that the story would be better in print than on screen, like so many books, I was pleased to find that Mitchell's account of Joe Gould made for an excellent read. Mitchell is a superb writer in my view. I have read few authors who are able to write nonfiction in such an eloquent and moving fashion. Beyond his technical skills, Mitchell also tells the story of Joe Gould. Gould is an eccentric Bohemian living in the Village during the 20s, 30s, and 40s. Mitchell one day decides to explore Gould's life and profile him in The New Yorker. Gould's profile appears in two forms. The first is "Professor Sea Gull" which appeared in 1942, and the second is "Joe Gould's Secret" which was published in 1964. As we read through the two accounts, we see and feel Mitchell's attraction to the eccentric Gould, his frustrations, his discovery of--and about--Gould's "Oral History," and his patience and compassion as Gould's fellow man. In the end, I think we are left with a book that is much a profile of Gould as it is of Mitchell. I certainly would have enjoyed having a martini and watching these two interact one evening. Since that is not possible, I am pleased that we have Mitchell's account which is good enough to make me think about and want such opportunties. I hope you enjoy this book as much as I have.
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