Sontag: Book summary and reviews of Sontag by Benjamin Moser

Sontag

Her Life and Work

by Benjamin Moser

Sontag by Benjamin Moser X
Sontag by Benjamin Moser
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  • Published Sep 2019
    832 pages
    Genre: Biography/Memoir

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Book Summary

The definitive portrait of one of the American Century's most towering intellectuals: her writing and her radical thought, her public activism and her hidden private face.

No writer is as emblematic of the American twentieth century as Susan Sontag. Mythologized and misunderstood, lauded and loathed, a girl from the suburbs who became a proud symbol of cosmopolitanism, Sontag left a legacy of writing on art and politics, feminism and homosexuality, celebrity and style, medicine and drugs, radicalism and Fascism and Freudianism and Communism and Americanism, that forms an indispensable key to modern culture. She was there when the Cuban Revolution began, and when the Berlin Wall came down; in Vietnam under American bombardment, in wartime Israel, in besieged Sarajevo. She was in New York when artists tried to resist the tug of money—and when many gave in. No writer negotiated as many worlds; no serious writer had as many glamorous lovers. Sontag tells these stories and examines the work upon which her reputation was based. It explores the agonizing insecurity behind the formidable public face: the broken relationships, the struggles with her sexuality, that animated—and undermined—her writing. And it shows her attempts to respond to the cruelties and absurdities of a country that had lost its way, and her conviction that fidelity to high culture was an activism of its own.

Utilizing hundreds of interviews conducted from Maui to Stockholm and from London to Sarajevo—and featuring nearly one hundred images—Sontag is the first book based on the writer's restricted archives, and on access to many people who have never before spoken about Sontag, including Annie Leibovitz. It is a definitive portrait—a great American novel in the form of a biography.

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Book Awards

  • award image Pulitzer Prize Winners, 2020

Reviews

Media Reviews

"A landmark biography, the first major reintroduction of an incomparable literary heavyweight to the public since her death." - The New York Times

"Utterly riveting and consistently insightful ... The book takes this larger-than-life intellectual powerhouse—formidable, intimidating, often stubbornly impersonal in her work—and makes her life-size again ... fascinating." - The New Republic

"Fascinating ... Moser's biography of Sontag is an education in Sontag, but also in what Sontag wanted and why, as well as an education in the worlds that inspired her and fought her." - Los Angeles Times

"A skilled, lively, prodigiously researched book that, in the main, neither whitewashes nor rebukes its subject: It works hard to make the reader see Sontag as the severely complex person she was. [Moser] writes vividly of a woman of parts determined to leave a mark on her time; and makes us feel viscerally how large those parts were ― the arrogance, the anxiety, the reach! No mean achievement." - The New York Times Book Review

"Moser's epic portrait of the iconic writer and critic winds through American history, entwining its subject to pivotal points in our culture and reshaping her legacy in the process." - Entertainment Weekly, "20 New Books to Read in September"

"There can be no doubting the brilliance – the sheer explanatory vigour – of Moser's biography ... a triumph of the virtues of seriousness and truth-telling that Susan Sontag espoused again and again but was conspicuously and often quite consciously unable to force herself to live by." - The New Statesman

"Persuasive and illuminating ... does what a biography ought to do: it enriches our understanding of its subject." - Los Angeles Review of Books

"Enlightening and finely tuned ... because his tone is so reserved, so disinterested in passing judgement, none of what he writes about comes off as dishy or inappropriate. More to the point, his critical distance from his subject makes him an echo of Sontag herself." - On the Seawall

"A towering figure like Susan Sontag deserves a towering tome, and Moser's 700-plus-page biography of the iconic cultural critic delivers ... this blockbuster à la Stacy Schiff's Cleopatra is both granular and grand—an opus fit for the writer-philosopher who 'created the mold, and then she broke it.'" - O Magazine, "18 Must-Read Books of Fall 2019"

"Moser is a tenacious biographer, keeping a tight hold on his narrative and reaching firm conclusions. He is very tough-minded, as Sontag herself was at her best, and his mind is like Sontag's in that he can make very sharp turns and land decisive blows." - Nylon Magazine

This information about Sontag was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's membership magazine, and in our weekly "Publishing This Week" newsletter. Publication information is for the USA, and (unless stated otherwise) represents the first print edition. The reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author and feel that they do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, send us a message with the mainstream reviews that you would like to see added.

Any "Author Information" displayed below reflects the author's biography at the time this particular book was published.

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Author Information

Benjamin Moser

Benjamin Moser was born in Houston. He is the author of, a finalist for the National Book Critics' Circle Award and a New York Times Notable Book. For his work bringing Clarice Lispector to international prominence, he received Brazil's first State Prize for Cultural Diplomacy. He has published translations from French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Dutch. A former books columnist for Harper's Magazine and The New York Times Book Review, he has also written for The New Yorker, Conde Nast Traveler, and The New York Review of Books.

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