Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
Other Sellers on Amazon
+ $3.99 shipping
+ $3.99 shipping
Norman Mailer: A Double Life Hardcover – October 15, 2013
"Rebound" by Kwame Alexander
Don't miss best-selling author Kwame Alexander's "Rebound," a new companion novel to his Newbery Award-winner, "The Crossover,"" illustrated with striking graphic novel panels. Pre-order today
Frequently bought together
Customers who bought this item also bought
Customers who viewed this item also viewed
A larger-than-life personality, Norman Mailer was a force to be reckoned with in his personal life—he knew many, many people—and as a voice in the American literary canon between WWII and the beginning of the twenty-first century. Any writer of a serious biography of Mailer who hopes to contain the excesses of the man within the covers of a book must know that since Mailer in his own lifetime grated on people’s taste and nerves, he could easily grate on the reader, even when presented within the pages of a biography. Lennon, authorized by Mailer before his death to write the definitive life treatment, performs a great task, letting Mailer’s obnoxiousness have free rein in balance with the biographer’s easygoing narrative style, which coaxes the reader into accepting and even enjoying all sides of Mailer—gregarious, notoriously thin-skinned, grandly egotistical, and monstrously talented. Understanding Mailer is only half the object of this welcome biography; its other intention is for readers to be enticed into reading or rereading Mailer’s works. --Brad Hooper
Lennon's title is apt but not quite sufficient. Mailer led innumerable double lives: novelist and journalist; father and flaneur; rich man and debtor; gentleman and brawler; radical and reactionary. —Christian Lorentzen
Author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more. Read it now
Top customer reviews
There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.
However, this book isn't just for academics. Lennon turns the development of Mailer's notoriously controversial character into an intriguing tale. This is the story of Mailer's life and literary evolution---and of his context at the center of the maelstrom that was Cold War America and its cultural revolution of the fifties and sixties.
Mailer's breakout novel, The Naked and the Dead, was a reflection of his own experiences on the battlefield during WWII, and it launched him into literary stardom at the age of twenty-five. From that vantage point, through his journalism as well as his fiction, he reported the crucial sociopolitical events of the second half of the twentieth century. Mailer documented the major happenings of his era, including the counterculture of Greenwich Village, JFK's campaign and election, the moonshot, and the Rumble in the Jungle.
His account of the 1967 March on the Pentagon, published as The Armies of the Night: History as a Novel, the Novel as History, won the Pulitzer Prize for general non-fiction and the National Book Award for Arts and Fiction in 1969. By then, Mailer had mastered the style of the New Journalism---reportage of factual events through the devices of fiction. He achieved this by simultaneously playing the role of narrator and protagonist of his own works. In so doing, he cast himself as a major figure within the heady times his writing embodied, and this conceit wasn't far from the truth. The popularity of Mailer's work and his prominence in the mass media made him one of the most influential thinkers of his time. His was a voice that was listened to intently---and argued with vehemently---by his literary peers and the general reading public.
In A Double Life, Lennon has cast Mailer in a central role once again, now with the benefit of a hindsight informed by Mailer's transition into the new millennium and the enormous body of writing he continued to produce. His final novel, The Castle in the Forest, was published in 2007, the year of his passing. It was intended as the first in a triptych of novels that would serve as a portrait of the totality of Hitler's life, and Mailer continued to research the project even on his deathbed.
Mailer's final work of non-fiction, On God: An Uncommon Conversation, was coauthored by Lennon as a series of interviews conducted throughout Mailer's last summer. In addition to these discussions, Lennon's biography is informed by decades of collaboration with Mailer. He is the editor of Mailer's The Spooky Art: Thoughts on Writing, along with several collections of critical essays on the author's work. As Mailer's archivist, he has compiled and documented an enormous body of papers and letters, now an invaluable resource accessible through the University of Austin's Harry Ransom Center.
A longtime professor of English, Lennon's knowledge of literature, history, pop culture, and religion has brought forth the most holistic and informed Mailer biography (Lennon's is the fifth, and now the foremost).
Above all, Lennon is a consummate storyteller, and from his meticulous research and documentation, he has woven an epic worthy of Mailer's stature.
As Mailer himself wrote in his preface to Lennon's 2000 bibliography, Norman Mailer: Works and Days:
"And should I end by occupying no larger place than a footnote in literary history, it will not be the fault of Michael Lennon. Those historic tides that carry a few authors' boats to the golden islands of posthumous investiture will have felt his hand on the tiller."
There is no doubt that Lennon's biography has earned a significant investiture of its own.
Although Mailer did express discomfort with fame after his first novel, The Naked and the Dead, climbed to number one on the New York Times’ Best-Seller List, and remained on the list for months, with subsequent sales bringing not only renown but wealth to Mailer, readers of this remarkable biography will quickly discover that Mailer, even in his childhood, enjoyed being in the limelight. His “avidity,” as Lennon calls it, for public attention led him into over seven hundred interviews throughout his lifetime, and this strong sense of self often meant placing himself at the center of his writing, particularly in books like The Armies of the Night. His “distaste” for fame is not evident in his life or in this book.
In many ways, Mailer lived his life as a romantic in the fashion of Byron or Hemingway. In the words of Lennon, he was a “serial philanderer,” engaging in scores of affairs over his lifetime. He drank and smoked heavily at times, and sometimes abused drugs, yet also became an amateur boxer. He gained notoriety when he stabbed and wounded one of his wives during a drunken argument. He received enormous criticism when he helped Jack Abbot get out of prison, only to have this criminal-writer kill a waiter outside a New York City restaurant. He frequently wrote for money, but also helped lead the way in creating the “New Journalism.” He became renowned, particularly in his non-fiction, for exploring the American psyche, though some might question whether he wasn’t conducting that exploration at a personal rather than a national level. He engaged in politics, marching on the Pentagon to protest the war in Vietnam, running for mayor of New York, and supporting various liberal causes, yet he was frequently attacked by feminists for his male chauvinism. (One of the more humorous scenes in Norman Mailer: A Double Life occurs when Mailer publicly debates several feminists).
Despite his penchant for publicity, despite the egotism, his need to surround himself with celebrities—six hundred people, including senators, actors, writers, and artists, attended his fiftieth birthday party, and paid to do so—Mailer comes across in this biography as a man who would make an enjoyable dinner companion. He was gregarious, he clearly enjoyed people, and he was a good storyteller. His wide range of interests would certainly make for some fine conversation. The Kennedys, Marilyn Monroe, boxing, poker, military tactics, art, the death penalty, ancient Egypt, religion, spirituality, film: these were just some of the topics Mailer delved into during his long life.
Those of us familiar with Mailer’s writing might be surprised to learn how much movies appealed to him and how for a good number of years he was involved in writing and producing independent films. Though none of these achieved the success of his books, they indicate again a man of wide interests and tastes. He also displayed some talent as an actor. Particularly fascinating is Lennon’s account of Mailer, his wife Norris, and George Plimpton doing a reader’s theater play, Zelda, Scott, & Ernest, in 2001 and 2002. Mailer played Hemingway, and the performances, used to raise money for charity, drew sell-out crowds in the United States and in Europe.
Near the end of Norman Mailer: A Double Life, Lennon reports in-depth on a 1994 exchange between Mailer and Jean Malaquais on a French-German television network. Malaquais, a writer and long-time friend of Mailer, accused him of selling out in his work and said: “Being a celebrity is your infantile malady.” Though the rift between the two men caused by this interview was eventually repaired—Mailer seems a man who angered quickly, but forgave easily—readers are left wondering about Mailer’s legacy. Certainly The Naked and the Dead will forever belong to the canon of World War II literature, and some of his writings on politics, sexuality, and the underside of American life during the last half of the twentieth century may continue to find readers, particularly scholars of that period of tremendous cultural change. Some of his other work—his writings on Ancient Egypt, his tales of Marilyn Monroe, his novels like Barbary Shore—have, one suspects, already begun to accumulate dust on library bookshelves.
J. Michael Lennon knew Norman Mailer for more than three decades. He has written extensively on Mailer, and for this book conducted scores of interviews and had access to thousands of Mailer’s letters and manuscripts. He was a close friend of Mailer and of his family, and personally knew many of his friends. As a result of his research and his own talent for writing, in this biography Lennon gives us a remarkable picture of a twentieth century writer and celebrity, a man who was both a creature of his time and a shaper of that time.