Philip Roth: The Biography

“Bailey is industrious, rigorous, and uncowed. … Although Roth would not have enjoyed some of the tumult that will now attend its publication, he might have admired his biographer’s … refusal to fall under his subject’s sway. The man who emerges is a literary genius, constantly getting it wrong, loving others, then hurting them, wrestling with himself and with language, devoted to an almost unfathomable degree to the art of fiction.”
—David Remnick, The New Yorker

“Roth got to be remembered [in Bailey’s biography] as a man: hilarious, mercurial, genuinely kind but fickle and mean-spirited too. A man, rather than inert legacy.”
—Mark Oppenheimer, New York Times Magazine

“Superlative … Bailey’s account is definitive and genuinely gripping to boot. … He leads us lucidly through a dense palimpsest of overlapping drafts, fictional identities, literary feuds and women.”
—Claire Lowdon, Times of London

“Beautifully written … compulsively readable … It is hard to imagine a book that will come up with a more definitive series of answers than this one.”
—Tim Adams, Observer

“Roth would approve of this biography, too, not because it’s partial but because Bailey’s industriousness is on a par with his own … it’s a miracle that he has published so lucid a book just three years after Roth’s death―and one so packed with good anecdotes and jokes.”
—Blake Morrison, The Guardian

“Bailey is a very good writer and a very good literary biographer. A double- or triple-natured subject is not beyond him. … What a story. … Bailey certainly lets the repellent in, and along with it comes the man in his wholeness.”
—James Parker, The Atlantic

“Unassailable as to fact … clear-eyed … quickly moving … Philip Roth seems as brightly peopled as a Victorian novel. … What [Bailey] does superbly … is chart Roth’s sexual and emotional life, and map its effects on his work.”
—Michael Gorra, New York Review of Books

“[A] totemic and compulsively readable biography.”
—Christian Lorentzen, Bookforum

“A wonderful book that seems certain to become the definitive biography of Roth’s fascinating, sometimes troubling, life — Roth was a brilliant writer, and Bailey does him justice in this beautifully written and highly readable volume.”
—Michael Schaub, Boston Globe

“Philip Roth, for all his flaws, for all that I know his legacy will continue to be judged in judgmental times and found wanting, deserves this riveting, serious and deeply intelligent biography.”
—David Baddiel, The Spectator

“Monumental and engrossing … Bailey brings new information and a fresh perspective … Is Bailey’s compassionate and comprehensive book the biography? No other biographer will have known Roth so well, had such unlimited access to his archives, had a chance to ask him rude questions, even to watch him as he lay dying.”
—Elaine Showalter, Times Literary Supplement (cover)

“Meticulous, masterfully organized and heroically fair-minded … there are sparkling scenes portraying Truman Capote’s Black and White Ball, lunching with the Kennedys on Martha’s Vineyard, even a flirtation with Jackie Onassis, the only woman Roth was too awed by to pursue … big, rigorously researched, consummately written.”
—Sam Sacks, Wall Street Journal

“A colorful, confident and uncompromising biographical triumph that, at more than 800 pages, also manages to be conversationally readable. … no one writing about Roth will be able to sidestep this foundational biography.”
—Alexander C. Kafka, Washington Post

“Magnificent … Roth’s biography is a book Bailey seemed destined to write.”
—Bryan Appleyard, Times of London

“Blake Bailey has done an absolutely superb job with the masses of material he had to work with, and with a very controlling subject. He manages to strike a sane and equable tone, and while he demonstrates a certain sympathy for Roth, he is nobody’s fool. The result is a detailed portrait of a man who is self-obsessed but generous and often kind; full of bile, yet, to many people, the funniest man they ever met; a devoted friend to many, an equally fervent foe to many others.”
—Brooke Allen, The New Criterion

“Bailey has written the finest biography of his stellar career, striking a balance between Roth’s life and work, and he has meticulously traced the connections between the two with shrewdness, skill and sympathy. Yes, the preeminent novelist of frailty, carnality and mortality, the serial adulterer who picked up women in elevators, the writer who quarreled with critics, Philip Roth, lives.”
—David Biespiel, Houston Chronicle

“A magnificent book — sedulous, scrupulous, fair-minded, reassuringly elegant in tone — everything Roth … could have hoped for.”
—Christopher Bray, The Critic

—Eric Cortellessa, Washington Monthly

“Well-researched and engrossing.”
—Mark Athitakis, USA Today

An Amazon Best Book of April 2021: It’s a brave writer who undertakes a biography about Philip Roth, undeniably a luminary of the contemporary novel. But Blake Bailey, who previously—and impressively—tackled the life of John Cheever, brings out Roth in all his wild talent and wicked behavior. This is a brilliant biography, personal but even-handed, that is worthy of its subject. —Chris Schluep, Amazon Book Review

“Rich­ly tex­tured … rev­e­la­to­ry … Philip Roth con­jures the intel­lec­tu­al­ly over­pow­er­ing, sex­u­al­ly omniv­o­rous, wound­ed, hilar­i­ous, mon­u­men­tal lit­er­ary fig­ure as ful­ly as possible.”
—Donald Weber, Jewish Book Council

“Blake Bailey’s biography of Philip Roth is that rare sort of book, meticulous without sacrificing dramatic energy, endlessly entertaining without ever surrendering critical integrity, candid without forfeiting compassion. … He presents Roth’s life and books with grace and unflinching honesty, connecting the man to the work in a way that makes each more compelling as the story proceeds. … This book is not the tip of the iceberg but the iceberg itself.”
—Michael Pearson, Virginian-Pilot

“Compelling and sympathetic … wonderfully engaging … Bailey’s many extended interviews with Roth and others supplement his research which the biographer weaves expertly so that we see, as Roth proclaims, how Art is Life … a riveting read of a great American master.”
—Paul Perry, Irish Independent

“One of the most anticipated literary biographies in recent memory.”
Associated Press

“A stunning feat, this is as dynamic and gripping as any of Roth’s own fictions.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“The rapport between Philip Roth and award-winning literary biographer Bailey is immediately apparent in this fully authorized, comprehensive, and engrossing chronicle of a driven, complicated, and contentious artistic life. Roth’s voice, by turns funny, furious, anguished, erudite, and reconciled, is heard throughout Bailey’s flowing, vivid, and precise account. … [Bailey] places Roth’s protean achievements within the history of American literature, and traces the arc of his work from shocking to profound, forging a consummate and unforgettable biography of a controversial, virtuoso, and indelible American writer.”
Booklist (starred review)

“Excellent … evenhanded … 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 … An outstanding biography of a prolific author for whom writing was ‘a ghastly protracted slog.'”
Kirkus (starred review)

“‘Magisterial’ and ‘definitive’ are adjectives often tossed around to describe voluminous biographies, but they don’t do justice to Blake Bailey’s years-in-the-making opus. Drawing extensively on archives and interviews, Bailey meticulously conjures the career of one of America’s literary titans, the devils and angels that shaped his work.”
O, The Oprah Magazine

“Fascinating … Bailey’s utterly engrossing biography shows Roth led a life just as strange and intense as his fictionalized alter egos.”
—Tomiwa Owolade, Evening Standard

“Blake Bailey’s book is definitive. It’s also often funny, sometimes appalling, and always fascinating—like its subject.”
—Jacqueline Cutler, New York Daily News

“Philip Roth, to go with his legendary talent, was a lucky man. That streak continues with Blake Bailey’s charming, wise, and witty biography, which achieves a balance and comprehensiveness that shouldn’t have been possible so soon after Roth’s death.”
—Jonathan Lethem