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3.57 of 5 stars 3.57  ·  rating details  ·  508 ratings  ·  130 reviews
Based on eight years of exhaustive research and exclusive interviews with more than 200 people—and published in coordination with the international theatrical release of a major documentary film from the Weinstein Company—The Private War of J.D. Salinger is a global cultural event: the definitive biography of one of the most beloved and mysterious figures of the twentieth...more
Paperback, 704 pages
Published September 3rd 2013 by Simon & Schuster (first published January 1st 2013)
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A deeply sad book.

It begins with an enormously sympathetic portrait of Salinger during WWII. Though he was not an infantryman, he was attached to Fourth Division, which suffered some of the worst casualties in the war. He arrived on Utah Beach on D-Day, fought in the flooded hedgerows of Normandy, endured the strange hell of the Hurtgen Forest and survived the Battle of the Bulge. Salinger was an NCO in the Counter Intelligence Corps and not directly involved in combat. He had freedom to move a...more
Jose Luis
Pocas veces me he sentido tan estafado ante un libro. Aunque esto no es exactamente un libro: se trata de un proyecto probablemente inspirado en aquel espanto llamado El secreto, de Rhonda Byrne, que también era una especie de producto multimedia, en el que un vídeo, un documental delirante y absurdo, servía como vehículo de promoción de un librito no menos delirante y absurdo (o quizá fuera al revés), dirigidos ambos a un público no lector, y aun no pensante. No es exactamente el mismo caso, pe...more
Fall of an Idol.

I waited with joyful anticipation for this book, to know more about an author whose primary published work had been an influential book in my early life. I read this book with increasing distaste. Aside from the format, which I thought was a little sloppy and could have been worked to create a functional narrative, the person that 'Salinger' uncovers is a person who had enough to hide that you do not wonder that he guarded his privacy so meanly. If I was that much of a hypocrite,...more
Moira Russell
- yes, I bought this book

- yes, I am reading this book

- yes, I know this makes me a terrible person

- this book really isn't as horrible an act of Great Cultural Desecration as everyone is saying it is (did they not read the Alexander biography?)

- that cover design should win an award

- presumably the one named "Shitty Book, Gorgeous Cover" that the Twilight series cover designer already got
Roger K. Miller
The biography has received indifferent to lousy reviews but I found it compulsively readable. It is not a conventional biography, more like a series of conversations with people who knew him. It has made me think much less of him and of his writing, except for “Catcher in the Rye.” I think it probably helps to be male, especially an adolescent, to like that novel, but there must be a lot of female readers among the 65 million copies sold worldwide. Indeed, some of the importunate fanatics who us...more
Wow, what a disappointment. This makes the third biography of Salinger that I've slogged through, and they've all been quite staggeringly lame (well, in fairness, the Alexander one was merely lame, but Hamilton's stunk on ice; and now this thing...yikes!). Even though I generally make it a policy to only rate/comment on books that I've read in their entirety, I admittedly skimmed (or skipped) large portions of this one. But I still feel the need to rag on this opus...or "global cultural event."...more
Laura Walsh
Never having been blown away by the so-called Great American Classic novel, 'Catcher in the Rye', I have always been extremely curious about it's author. Certainly I had heard bits and pieces about his reclusive behavior, his later refusal to publish any more of his works although he supposedly wrote feverishly every day for years and years, etc. I thought maybe if I learned more about the man, I might better understand or appreciate, 'Catcher'. This biography has been described as a "companion...more
Max Nemtsov
если и писать биографии (особенно таких авторов, которые по-прежнему своими текстами нажимают на наши разнообразные нервы), то, видимо, примерно так - составляя калейдоскопическую картинку из множества разных голосов, стараясь избегать толкований и однозначных выводов (они все равно будут скоропалительными и недостаточно информированными). такой с самого начала, видимо, и лучше было б быть биографии Сэлинджера (а не то, что мы имели; и она, конечно, не отменяет необходимости его читать). на 3/4...more
Matt Picchietti
I hated the format of this book. I only made it through 92 pages before announcing an official time of death. I returned the book. It's the first time I've ever done that. I'm even more pissed because, despite the obnoxious layout, there was good information, but I did not have the patience to fight my way through that literary mess that is being sold for 37.50. Brutal.
"Ingenious novel or biography? Hard to tell...."

Wow, am I glad I got the flu and was too uncomfortable to sleep and had to spend 2 days in bed. This book is GENIUS...the narration is perfection (sometimes multiple casts don't work for me, but this one is done brilliantly) and I have always wanted to know more about the man who wrote Catcher in the Rye, as it has so much significance. I know there is a documentary (that I hope will not be overlooked in favor of Anchorman, Spiderman 10 or some suc...more
Rebekah Welch
I've been a Salinger fan since college and have read the other bios about him. I also have read Joyce Maynard's and Margaret Salinger's memoirs. I'm really enjoying this so far especially as it includes information about other figures like Oona O'Neill and Earnest Hemingway. The start of the book focuses heavily on his fighting in WWII, which was well done. I understand this is the transcript of the new documentary and I'm enjoying the delivery of content, which is cut up with one figure after a...more
Lorca Damon
Verdict: 2 stars

One of the most highly anticipated recent book launches has been Shields' and Salerno's Salinger, billed as an exhaustive biography of of one of the most reclusive writers of our time. What was actually published, unfortunately, was nothing more than transcripts written in interview format of discussions about the author with people who claimed to know him, nearly 200 people, in fact.

While there is the occasional insight into the author's life or the briefest of pieces of new inf...more
Sep 08, 2013 Adam added it
Big problems here. The structure is oral history, but the speakers' relationships to Salinger aren't identified, though they are (re)arranged in chronological order of Salinger's life, so for example you can get an ex-lover (seemingly) in conversation with an unconnected war historian. There's a lot of 'in a letter to a friend, Salinger admitted Holden was based on his youth' -type stuff, but who is the friend & where is the letter? This stuff isn't sourced. Also the authors themselves beak...more
Anna Maria Ballester Bohn
It made me want to read the Salinger stories I haven't read yet, which is good. I learned some things about him, and especially about the time(s) he lived in that I didn't know, also good. I was (mostly) entertained, always good. There was a lot of voyeuristic aspect, which I personally am a sucker for, but others might find it annoying. The passages about the war were a bit too long for me, although I do understand why this had to be so, because they needed to underline over and over again that...more
Miriam Murcutt
'Salinger' is the hefty biography of 'The Catcher in the Rye' author, Jerome David Salinger. And it certainly hangs some of his dirty washing out to dry. Sensitive recluse or manipulating publicity seeker? Profound literary talent or flash-in-the-pan success? Loving father or child neglector? For every pro this book has a con as authors Shields and Salerno search among Salinger's family, friends and foes to balance the truth about Salinger the man as well as Salinger the writer. I found it to be...more

Do you remember where and when you first read _Catcher in the Rye_? If it made a deep impression, you may enjoy this biography, which contains lots of previous unseen letters, pictures, and information derived from interviews with people who no longer feel they have to protect Salinger's insistence on privacy since his death in 2010.

I didn't know Salinger's WWII history. His first combat experience was on D-Day, Utah Beach, and he was in combat for 299 days when 200 days was considered the max...more
Sam Sattler
Honestly, before reading Salinger, the new J.D. Salinger biography by David Shields and Shane Salerno, I knew very little about the author’s personal life. Sure, I had read most of Salinger’s published works and I was well aware of his obsessively reclusive lifestyle, but that was about it. And, frankly, now that I’ve read this 700-page biography, I almost wish I hadn’t because much of what I learned about Salinger is not pretty.

Salinger is an “oral biography,” one of those hybrid pieces of writ...more
Jill Adams
Three and a half stars.

There is a different style of writing (especially at the beginning of the book): Paragraphs from different sources compose the text. It was a bit like reading a multi-genre paper in that regard. It didn't phase me, and--for the most part--and I appreciated the shifts. I was also more drawn to the first half of the book compared to the second half. This may be due to content (childhood, war, the writing of Catcher) and tone.

I had the opportunity to meet and introduce David...more
It's a very interesting look into Salinger's life, but I can't say that there is much revelatory here. Much of the information surrounding JD has been rumored for years, from the influence of the war to his fascination with young girls to his secret manuscripts. What this does, however, is flush out and "verify" these rumors into something that resembles fact.

And while the Salinger estate's silence in the wake of this publication may mean that Shields and Salerno don't have the publication timel...more
Tessa Concepcion
Okay, I'm not much for writing reviews since I tend to think a lot about the things I read long after I've finished it that it will take me time to write a good critical analysis of this book. First of all, I would have to say that Salinger is a deeply broken man and a despicable human being who is full of contradictions and self inflicted misery. One cause of which would be the irreconcilable ways of how to marry his deeply held principles on religion and how he treats the body. And that is jus...more
Chris Gager
Borrowed from a co-worker, himself a published writer(Robert W. Chapman). Seems to me it has a much darker cover? That red color must be the dust jacket. Maybe get started tonight/tomorrow?

I did do some preliminary skimming this morning. I hope it's not a slog.

It's pretty interesting so far and the format is different(for me)... a bunch of tagged testimony by lots of people with stuff to contribute as to what JDS' life and experiences were like. In general his fans tended to create a false(inacc...more
Micah Landers
I think that if Shane Salerno wrote this alone I would give it 4-5 stars, if David Shields wrote it alone it would be 1 star.
The quoting, interview-style of an oral biography make this read a really fascinating one, full of contradictory statements that give one a much more well-rounded and honest perspective of the difficult contradictions that inevitable fill one man's life and ideas.
David Shields quickly became a very annoying contributor in the text, writing pretentiously and swaying between...more
WARNING: I didn't read most of this book. But, like Kanye West with college, I decided I was finished.

I'd heard so many good things, so I was all excited to check this out. But then I started reading it. The introduction was fine, if a little exploitative (which I should have seen coming, given it's a biography of a man who avoided being in the public eye). But then the first chapter is this unfiltered-interview-style interspersing of blocks of quoted interview and black-and-white photographs. N...more
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Seth Kupchick
I am a big fan of oral biographies and J.D. Salinger, so in a way this bio was conceived and created for me, and I'm biased. That said, I can't say it's the best oral biography I've ever read (boy, does that sound dirty) and I'm sure that's the way Salinger would've liked it, or intended it to be. The great author was famously anti-social and add to this most of his contemporaries were dead when the book was made (Salinger was born in 1919), so one does not get the feeling of the recent past bei...more
Susan Emmet
I readily admit to heading to Cornish, NH in 1972 to find Salinger. I was a first-year public school teacher, our school was closed due to a scabies epidemic, and a friend and I headed southwest from Maine. We failed.

I readily admit to being in love with all of Salinger's works - as a kid, as an adult, as a teacher. I even got in trouble at school a few times over the years because of "Catcher In The Rye." One mother blacked out all the swear words so her daughter could read it with the rest of...more
Fascinating, thorough, addictive, tremendously well researched...these are just some of the attributes of Salinger, a text that is a unique and captivating blend of biography and investigative journalism.

The portrait painted here of the revered writer is, to say the least, unflattering; however, that isn't to imply that the book is unfair, which I didn't feel it was at all. Shields & Co. interviewed a cavalcade of highly credible witnesses and printed every kind word of Salinger that anyone...more
I have been reading biographies in a different frame of mind recently and have paid attention to the difference in form or style. This author looks at the broader context of the world in which Salinger lived. The first part immerses you in WWII and later you explore Mark David Chapman's world. I had not considered the unfortunate influence The Catcher and the Rye had on multiple violent episodes in the 80's. I do remember the controversy but hadn't thought about it at all recently and had actual...more
I read this book last year. I am not a big fan of Catcher in the Rye (the only Salinger book I have read, I admit). I was interested because Salinger dropped off the literary map so to speak and chose a life as a virtual recluse. This book goes a long way in explaining Salinger's professional and personal life choices. What most interested me was that from inception the biography was being done with an accompanying documentary. Which may be why the book didn't quite work for me since most of it...more
Salinger, the so-called "greatest novelist" of the 1950s, was a very strange man. This biography, companion book to the documentary film, was nine years in the making, and shows Salinger for what he was--a very damanged individual with a fetish for pubescent virgins and a life away from the critics. His birth defect (undescended testicle), his war experiences (Utah Beach, Battle of the Bulge, "liberating" Kaufering Lager IV, a subcamp of Dachau), his fixation on young innocent women, his fear of...more
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David Shields is the author of fourteen books, including Reality Hunger (Knopf, 2010), which was named one of the best books of 2010 by more than thirty publications. GQ called it "the most provocative, brain-rewiring book of 2010"; the New York Times called it "a mind-bending manifesto." His previous book, The Thing About Life Is That One Day You'll Be Dead (Knopf, 2008), was a New York Times bes...more
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