Summary and book reviews of Ravelstein by Saul Bellow

Ravelstein

By Saul Bellow

Ravelstein
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  • Hardcover: Apr 2000,
    224 pages.
    Paperback: May 2001,
    224 pages.

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Book Summary

Abe Ravelstein is a brilliant professor at a prominent Midwestern university and a man who glories in training the movers and shakers of the political world. He has lived grandly and ferociously--and much beyond his means. His close friend Chick has suggested that he put forth a book of his convictions about the ideas which sustain humankind, or kill it, and much to Ravelstein's own surprise he does and becomes a millionaire. Ravelstein suggests in turn that Chick write a memoir or life of him, and during the course of a celebratory trip to Paris the two share thoughts on mortality, philosophy and history, loves and friends old and new, old suits, and vaudeville routines from the remote past. The mood turns more somber once they have returned to the midwest and Ravelstein succumbs to AIDS and Chick himself nearly dies.

Deeply insightful and always moving, Saul Bellow's new novel is a journey through love and memory. It is brave, dark, and bleakly funny; an elegy to friendship and lives well (or badly) lived.

Excerpt
Ravelstein

Odd that mankind's benefactors should be amusing people. In America at least this is often the case. Anyone who wants to govern the country has to entertain it. During the Civil War people complained about Lincoln's funny stories. Perhaps he sensed that strict seriousness was far more dangerous than any joke. But critics said that he was frivolous and his own Secretary of War referred to him as an ape.

Among the debunkers and spoofers who formed the tastes and minds of my generation H. L. Mencken was the most prominent. My high school friends, readers of the American Mercury, were up on the Scopes trial as Mencken reported it. Mencken was very hard on William Jennings Bryan and the Bible Belt and Boobus Americanus. Clarence Darrow, who defended Scopes, represented science, modernity, and progress. To Darrow and Mencken, Bryan the Special Creationist was a doomed Farm Belt absurdity. In the language of evolutionary theory Bryan was a dead branch of the life-tree...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
Introduction
Abe Ravelstein is a capacious, vibrant, larger-than-life character; a teacher who insists that the ideas of Plato, Aristotle, and Nietzsche are vitally important to his students' lives; a philosopher who is committed to saving human dignity from encroaching "boobism"; and at the same time a man who luxuriates in all the sensual pleasures life has to offer, from Armani suits to the finest French hotels. When his friend Chick suggests he turn one of his popular courses into a book, no one would have foreseen that it would become an international bestseller and vault its author into a worldwide, and often controversial, spotlight. As Chick notes, "It's no small matter to become rich and famous by saying exactly what you ...
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Reviews

Media Reviews
The Washington Post - Jonathan Yardley

Our 'greatest living novelist' returns with his first full-length novel in years.

The New York Times Book Review - Joyce Carol Oates

No contemporary of ours is more consistently brilliant and more defiantly risky than Saul Bellow

The Boston Globe

His voice has the meticulous range and certainty of a cathedral choir. The wit is exquisitely mannered; the intelligence both fearless and elegant.

The New York Times Book Review

Simply the best writer we have

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