An outstanding biography of a prolific author for whom writing was “a ghastly protracted slog."



An acclaimed biographer turns his attention to the author he has called America’s “greatest living novelist."

Philip Roth (1933-2018) was famous enough to socialize with the likes of Frank Sinatra and Claudette Colbert; at one point, he turned down the advances of recently widowed Jackie Kennedy. In this excellent biography, Bailey offers an evenhanded portrait of an author whose many admirers include authors Nicole Krauss, Edna O’Brien, and Zadie Smith but whose depictions of women in novels such as Portnoy’s Complaint and Sabbath’s Theater infuriated others. For example, in 2011, his Man Booker International Prize spurred one of the judges—Carmen Callil, founder of the feminist Virago Press, the English publisher of Leaving a Doll’s House, the scathing memoir by Roth’s ex-wife, Claire Bloom—to resign in protest. Roth gave Bailey access to his archive and sat down for interviews, and it shows, especially in the many intimate details about Roth’s personal life: his Jewish upbringing in Newark; his friendships and rivalries with John Updike, William Styron, and other contemporaries; his ailments, from lifelong back trouble to coronary artery disease, for which he preferred a bypass over beta blockers because the medicine made him impotent; and his many affairs, including while married to Bloom. Bailey offers positive and negative assessments of Roth’s books, from describing Goodbye, Columbus as “a kind of Jewish Gatsby, given the charm of its prose and humor, its concision, and its theme of meretricious American-style success,” to calling out the “breathtaking tastelessness toward women” in The Great American Novel. While Bailey notes that Roth may not have been the misogynist some would believe, he doesn’t shy away from pointing out his flaws and blind spots—e.g., when Roth referred to the “ghastly pansy rhetoric” of Edward Albee’s play Tiny Alice in a 1965 review or when he organized a party for Bloom’s 62nd birthday with his married lover in attendance.

An outstanding biography of a prolific author for whom writing was “a ghastly protracted slog."

Pub Date: April 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-393-24072-6

Page Count: 880

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Jan. 6, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2021

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.


The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

Did you like this book?

A conversational, pleasurable look into McConaughey’s life and thought.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller


All right, all right, all right: The affable, laconic actor delivers a combination of memoir and self-help book.

“This is an approach book,” writes McConaughey, adding that it contains “philosophies that can be objectively understood, and if you choose, subjectively adopted, by either changing your reality, or changing how you see it. This is a playbook, based on adventures in my life.” Some of those philosophies come in the form of apothegms: “When you can design your own weather, blow in the breeze”; “Simplify, focus, conserve to liberate.” Others come in the form of sometimes rambling stories that never take the shortest route from point A to point B, as when he recounts a dream-spurred, challenging visit to the Malian musician Ali Farka Touré, who offered a significant lesson in how disagreement can be expressed politely and without rancor. Fans of McConaughey will enjoy his memories—which line up squarely with other accounts in Melissa Maerz’s recent oral history, Alright, Alright, Alright—of his debut in Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused, to which he contributed not just that signature phrase, but also a kind of too-cool-for-school hipness that dissolves a bit upon realizing that he’s an older guy on the prowl for teenage girls. McConaughey’s prep to settle into the role of Wooderson involved inhabiting the mind of a dude who digs cars, rock ’n’ roll, and “chicks,” and he ran with it, reminding readers that the film originally had only three scripted scenes for his character. The lesson: “Do one thing well, then another. Once, then once more.” It’s clear that the author is a thoughtful man, even an intellectual of sorts, though without the earnestness of Ethan Hawke or James Franco. Though some of the sentiments are greeting card–ish, this book is entertaining and full of good lessons.

A conversational, pleasurable look into McConaughey’s life and thought.

Pub Date: Oct. 20, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-13913-4

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

Did you like this book?