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Sarah: The Life of Sarah Bernhardt (Jewish Lives) Hardcover – September 21, 2010

4.5 out of 5 stars 17 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Gottlieb, author of George Balanchine: The Ballet Maker (2004), launches Yale’s Jewish Lives series with a digestible account of the life and times of the “Divine Sarah.” Although much has been already been written about Sarah, most of it has been embellished—the imaginative actress herself was not above creatively reworking or entirely fabricating episodes from her own life. What Gottlieb attempts, and mostly succeeds in doing, is separating the legend from the reality. When he is unable to do so definitively, he grounds each scenario in whatever historical evidence or plausible data does exist, allowing readers to draw their own educated conclusions. Where this biography truly shines, however, is in the mini-portraits of the people who played significant roles in Sarah’s saga; family, friends, colleagues, rivals, admirers, detractors, and lovers are vividly brought to life. The result: one of the greatest actresses of all time stars in the story of her life, surrounded by an extraordinary cast of supporting characters. --Margaret Flanagan

Review

"A fascinating look at Bernhardt's mythology and the stagecraft behind it. . . . What Sarah understood--as Gottlieb, a storied editor and publisher, makes clear--was how the heightened drama of performance might be extended to her own life."--Vogue
(Vogue)

"Mr. Gottlieb's fluid style and lightly worn authority offer a lucid and essential modern guide to the making of celebrity, in an era before the noun existed."--Norman Lebrecht, Wall Street Journal
(Norman Lebrecht Wall Street Journal)

"Robert Gottlieb is true to the mystery of his subject's self-invented life. He also does what few biographers of famous women seem able or willing to do: He focuses on her work. . . . Vintage Gottleib, full of humor and refreshingly free of hagiography."--Susan Salter Reynolds, Los Angeles Times
(Susan Salter Reynolds Los Angeles Times)

"Immensely entertaining."--Jeremy McCarter, Newsweek

(Jeremy McCarter Newsweek)

"A delectable, witty short biography of legendary French actress Sarah Bernhardt, and a decidedly unstuffy debut for Yale's Jewish Lives series."--Shelf Awareness
(Shelf Awareness)

"Gottlieb's Sarah is a fine introduction to a fascinating woman, giving the reader a lively sense of why, so many decades after her death, the name of Sarah Bernhardt, above all others, still stands for actress."--Julius Novick, The Forward
(Julius Novick The Forward)

"There's an amazing amount of information here, about an amazing woman. . . . This is the first English-language biography of Sarah Bernhardt, and it is wonderfully informative as well as entertaining. I'm glad I've been given the opportunity to experience it, and will never again think of her as just that woman who was famous for playing Hamlet."--Shakespeare Geek
(Shakespeare Geek)

"An elegant and engaging portrait worthy of Bernhardt. . . a terrific book."--Glenn C. Altschuler, NPR Books We Like
(Glenn C. Altschuler NPR Books We Like)

"Comprehensive and illuminating about many things besides Bernhardt--French anti-Semitism, sexual mores amongst the intellectual aristocracy, etc.--without being exhausting. I can't imagine Bernhardt's story being told better."--Scott Eyman, Palm Beach Post
(Scott Eyman Palm Beach Post)

"Appropriately lively. . . Gottlieb's affable, anecdotal style suits the subject well."--Graham Robb, New York Review of Books
(Graham Robb New York Review of Books)

"Sarah Bernhardt is a gift to the raconteur. Mr. Gottlieb takes full advantage. Where he can, he stages her life as a performance, with knowing asides and a certain kind of old-fashioned fun." — Economist
(Economist)

"[A] sharp, efficient biography."--Emma Brockes, New York Times Book Review
(Emma Brockes New York Times Book Review)

"A fascinating look at Bernhardt's mythology and the stagecraft behind it. . . . What Sarah understood--as Gottlieb, a storied editor and publisher makes clear--was how the heightened drama of performance might be extended to her own life."--Vogue
(Vogue)

"Robert Gottlieb's book is appropriately small, beautiful and packed with drama. . . . Mr. Gottlieb is a meticulous reader, researcher and distiller of information. . . . Although he claims we can know little about her actual performances, he manages to make them come alive. I see her and hear her, declamatory to our modern sensibilities, alarmingly natural and passionate to audiences of the late 19th century."--Kathleen George, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
(Kathleen George Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

"One ends this breathlessly readable and deeply intelligent book in as much awe of Sarah as people and audiences were in her own lifetime; it is that rarest of books, a serious biography that reads not only like a novel, but like a big, romantic, sprawling, over-the-top novel. Gottlieb has made of her story a wonderful book--one, which, to pay it its highest due, any editor, including himself (and me), would give his or her eye-teeth to have published!"--Michael Korda, Daily Beast
(Michael Korda Daily Beast)

"In 'Sarah: The Life of Sarah Berndhardt', Robert Gottlieb presents (his subject) appreciatively, in full color, in all her exuberance, extravagance, beauty, passion and talent. This is the first English-language biography in decades of the first internationally known stage star."--Sandee Brawarsky, New York Jewish Week
(Sandee Brawarsky New York Jewish Week)

"Gottlieb shows in this fine, sympathetic biography [that Sarah Bernhardt] put the world on a leash and added it to her own private menagerie."—Betty Smartt Carter, Books & Culture
(Betty Smartt Carter Books & Culture)

"Very readable. . . . Gottlieb holds the reader's interest throughout. . . . [An] excellent biography. . . . Recommended very highly for casual reader as well as for specialists."—Richard Weigel, Pages
(Richard Weigel Pages)

"Robert Gottlieb's biography of Bernhardt is very readable and covers the actress' fascinating life qutie well."—Richard Weigel, Bowling Green Daily News
(Richard Weigel Bowling Green Daily News)

"Gottlieb writes about Bernhardt with convincing respect and sympathy, tempered with quiet amusement at her oddities and excesses. His lucid, conversational, urbane prose is accompanied by numerous illustrations. . . . Gottlieb's Sarah is a fine introduction to a fascinating woman."—Julius Novick, Forward
(Julius Novick Forward)

Received Honorable Mention in the Biography/Autobiography category of the 2010 New England Book Festival
(Biography Honorable Mention New England Book Festival)

"it's an ambitious book, a real doorstopper. . . . You'll learn all manner of facts."—David Wood, Book Report
(David Wood Book Report)

"[Robert Gottlieb] does what few biographers of famous women do: He focuses on her work."—Susan Salter Reynolds, Newsday
(Susan Salter Reynolds Newsday)

"Robert Gottlieb presents her appreciatively, in full color, in all her exuberance, extravagance, beauty, passion and talent."—Sandee Brawarsky,
(Sandee Brawarsky The Jewish Week)

“With panache worthy of his subject, Gottlieb lays out the players as if Bernhardt’s life were a stage drama. His charismatic prose captures the spell of the consummate mythmaker.”—Carol Ockman, coauthor of Sarah Bernhardt: The Art of High Drama (Carol Ockman)

“Robert Gottlieb sifts through the fiction in this hugely entertaining biography of the theatrical legend, and often casts doubt on the competing accounts of her life with little more than a raised eyebrow.”—Victoria Segal, The Guardian
(Victoria Segal The Guardian 2014-01-18)
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Product Details

  • Series: Jewish Lives
  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (September 21, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300141270
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300141276
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #857,449 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Wooley in PSL VINE VOICE on September 26, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Robert Gottlieb is a excellent writer and has a way with his style to give the reader a great insight to his subject. Just look at READING JAZZ, READING DANCE, READING LYRIC, or his great book on George Ballanchine to admire and praise his work. Now he takes on Sarah Bernhardt, in SARAH: THE LIFE OF SARAH BERNHARDT. Brilliantly done. Probably the most noted actress of the era, she died in 1923, Gottlieb uses historic records to investigate conflicting stories about her life. Bernherdt was brilliant and even made trips to the USA from France. She was lover to many including royalty, mother, and outspoken in intellectual circles. Read this biography of a lady yoou probably know little about. Enjoy, Recommended
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Format: Hardcover
We say that performers are "legendary," but the word cannot be applied any more fittingly than to Sarah Bernhardt, whose name is synonymous with drama, or with excessive drama. Her performances were sensations all around the world, even among people who didn't understand a word of French; she was a world-wide celebrity long before we had the current media to make such celebrities commonplace, and no current performer is as famous or scandalous as she was in her day. She has had plenty of biographers, but the current _Sarah: The Life of Sarah Bernhardt_ (Yale University Press) by Robert Gottlieb is a brisk and sharp attempt to acknowledge the myths about the actress while attempting to understand her core. She made this difficult, because in her own stories about her life she was a relentless fabulist. Alexandre Dumas _fils_ who wrote plays with her in mind thought her deceitfulness was an essential part of her genius: "You know," he said of the actress who was famously and unfashionably thin, "she's such a liar, she may even be fat!" The stories about her are genuinely entertaining, though, and although she distorted her past, she was always in full charge of her present.

She never lied about her origins as far as her illegitimacy was concerned. Her father, whoever he was, never played a role in her life; her mother was hugely influential, but was often a force to be overcome. One of the mother's lovers arranged for Bernhardt to go to the Paris Conservatoire to learn the art of acting. Initially, however, there was not enough theater work. She lived by her wits, attending public balls and parties, and taking on the role as courtesan assigned to her by her mother.
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Simply magnificent! A short life of one of the most fascinating personalities ever, filled with juicy anecdote, wit and enough incidents to fill several novels. Wonderfully balanced, well written and the life only became more interesting as it progressed. It also gave insight into the world of theater in the Belle Epoque (and incidentally into the character of Berma as immortalized by Proust). A totally satisfying experience and one closed the book hungry for more.
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Having been born in 1935, I am not a Bernhardt contemporary, though I certainly remember my mother (and especially my Grandmother) talking about her. But I was unprepared for the remarkable individual portrayed in this eminently readable biography. She was truly an extraordinary person, as well as perhaps the greatest actress ever, and the biography does her justice. Many biographies are difficult to negotiate; this is an exception, being written with grace and generous humor, as well as by someone who is a menschenkenner -- someone who knows people. Sarah Bernhardt rose from humble and unpromising beginnings to overcome all obstacles; her life was a triumph of talent and fortitude over multiple obstacles. Who would not benefit from learning more about her story?
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"Sarah: The Life of Sarah Bernhardt" was an enlightening story about Sarah Bernhardt. After reading the book I can see whay people refer to "stop acting like Sarah Bernhardt". Loved reading about her and her escapades. I definately would recommend this is a GREAT READ.
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Mr. Gottlieb does an excellent job of threading through gossip and legend to give us a good picture of Bernhardt and her career. I got so interested in her after this book that I read four more, one of those for background of teaching in her time.

She is a seminal figure and the times she lived in were fascinating.

An excellent biography.
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This book gives an entertaining and fascinating taste of the times and life of a most unique and mysterious artist, and how she developed and flourished through her choices, determination and passion. The many rare photos of Sarah, family, lovers and colleagues are very helpful in giving the reader insight into the subject. It covers her own memoirs and those of others who wrote about her, while questioning the different biases and perspectives of each writer.
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Although I thoroughly enjoyed the book, I could only give 4 stars. I loved the way Gottlieb was so forthright in describing Sarah's "extracurricular" activities, the chronology of the book made sense and didn't skip you back and forth in time, and an attempt at the truth was searched for, even with Sarah being no so forthcoming with certain details. However, the long, drawn-out passages detailing Sarah's genius (as interesting as they were in the beginning of the book), I found myself skipping them about half way through. Without these, I certainly would have given 5 stars. Still a great read!
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