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Roth Unbound

4.12  ·  Rating details ·  392 ratings  ·  64 reviews
Here, at last, is the story of Philip Roth's creative life. Roth Unbound is not a biography--though it contains a wealth of previously undisclosed biographical details and unpublished material--but something ultimately more rewarding: the exploration of a great writer through his art.

Claudia Roth Pierpont, a staff writer for The New Yorker, has known Roth for nearly a dec
Hardcover, 353 pages
Published October 22nd 2013 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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Average rating 4.12  · 
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Paul Bryant
Jun 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: litcrit
All novelists with 50 year careers deserve a book like this which could not be better or neater – Roth had just retired and completed his life’s work and Claudia Pierpont seized the time and interviewed him about all his stuff and then wrote a solid account of the whole garrulous controversial Rothiverse book by book. I read this to try to figure out my profound ambivalence about Big Roth who was undoubtedly brilliant but also really quite vile. The score so far for me is :

Operation Shylock, Po
Jason Coleman
Nov 21, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: greatest-hits
Pierpont had access to the man himself, so this critical overview is going to loom a long time. That's what happens with books that are perceived as roadmaps (see Stuart Gilbert). Pierpont has a mind of her own, though, and isn't afraid to dis some of Roth's books. In fact, I'm a little alarmed by the way she dismisses vintage Roth works like My Life as a Man and The Professor of Desire, but for the most part she is right on in her judgments. She's an excellent reader, really. That her general v ...more
Sam Sattler
Dec 19, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Relatively few writers use details from their personal lives in their fiction more than Philip Roth does in his. And that is exactly what makes Claudia Roth Pierpont’s Roth Unbound: A Writer and His Books so potentially fascinating.

Roth Unbound is not as much biography as it is literary criticism of one man’s entire writing career. Book by book, Pierpont examines everything written by Roth, from his best known and most successful novels, to his lesser known and least successful ones. What’s more
Hani Omar
Jul 08, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This book will not, by any means, put to bed any of the (often heated) disagreement and debate surrounding Roth's works over the decades, nor does the author (no relation to the subject) intend it to. As much literary documentary as literary biography, Roth Unbound actively engages the subject in the story being told about him, as participant, informer, and witness to his own life's work. Resultantly (and as with so many of Roth's works) it is often difficult to separate the authorial voice from ...more
Jan 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I wrote this first for Salon's "Ultimate Book Guide for 2013":

Most biographies of writers are heavy on minutiae and surprisingly unilluminating about artistry. Roth Pierpont (no relation to Philip) dispenses with the unnecessary, invoking Roth’s life only to the degree that it extends our understanding of the work. She’s a fan, but a clear-eyed and unfawning one. And she writes terrifically well herself, offering intelligent, intuitive readings while making a convincing case for the cohesion of
Ryan Chapman
Jul 24, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
Pierpont's evenhanded and sharply intelligent study of Roth's writing makes you yearn for an entire genre of similar books. I enjoyed this much more than a straightforward biography, as the focus is much more on the books, their genesis, and their reception than on the kind of thorough-for-thorough's sake details you'd otherwise find. Highly recommended for Roth fans as well as new readers. (Though if you haven't read him at all, I'd start with The Ghost Writer and Portnoy's Complaint.) ...more
Nov 28, 2016 rated it really liked it
Excellent analysis of Roth's work too...has shed a lot of light on Roth books I've read to date and on those I plan to read. ...more
Costin Manda
May 20, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: owned
After a period of reading only fantasy books, I've decided it was time to get to something more serious. So I started reading Roth Unbound, by Claudia Roth Pierpoint. Funny enough, the book is a biography of Philip Roth, an influential Jewish-American writer, written by a person named Roth that has no relation to him.

Anyway, the thing is I am fascinated by what people think and feel when doing things, so I love well written auto-biographies. However, this book is written by someone else than the
James Winter
Sep 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
Since the book is subtitled "A Writer and His Books," I think I should be a little more forgiving with my rating. As a thoroughly researched explication of Roth's work inside the context of his life, I enjoyed Pierpont's writing. Having read Roth thoroughly, however, I wanted more insight about his life as well as the reaction to his novels. Sometimes, I feel these chapters are too grounded in an analysis of his publications' triumphs and failures. I understand that for Roth, writing is/was his ...more
Jul 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is an amazing biography, because Ms. Pierpont knew Roth well (no, she is not a relative!), but more importantly, she manages to combine a study of Philip Roth's life and his works with her personal anecdotes and knowledge of the "real" person (very tricky with someone like Roth, who was often identified with his characters). I learned a tremendous amount about books I had read (and those I have not yet read), and also about Roth's personality, character, and background. Yes, Ms. Pierpont is ...more
Jul 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Yeah, Pierpont is soft on some of the more troubling aspects of Roth's oeuvre, but I wouldn't call the book "fan fiction," as the New Republic labeled it. It's clear what Pierpont thinks of each book, for instance, and she certainly labels a bunch of them (noble) failures. Ultimately, I really enjoyed and appreciated the way she pulled together criticism and biography to illuminate the books themselves. The quotes from and vignettes about Roth were also very illuminating. For someone like me, wh ...more
Jon Pirtle
If Roth's books were as good as this bio of Roth and his books, I would read more of them. But how many times does an atheistic prurient angry intellectual have to write the same story? For Philip Roth, he did it for decades. I, for one, do not enjoy his books. He is, for some reason, however, a staple of American literature, so I press on. But if you want a wonderful bio of P. Roth, Claudia Pierpont's book is truly enjoyable. She balances anecdotes from P. Roth's conversations, marriages, adult ...more
Steve Mayer
Jul 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
Essential reading for anyone wanting to read (or re-read) Philip Roth. This book by Claudia Roth Pierpont (no relation) is entertaining and insightful, as it explores the multiple ways in which Roth has transformed his life and the lives of those around him into fiction. Which is not to say that the books are roman-a-clef's--as Roth continually reminds us, it's the job of the novelist to make stuff up. She had multiple conversations with Roth about his life and work, and it shows. On to The Fact ...more
M. Lynes
Sep 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
Fantastic if you’re a Roth fan. Interesting biographical information interspersed with intelligent critique of the work, and she became a friend. Useful guide for which novels to read and a great place holder whilst we await the biography.
Feb 09, 2016 rated it liked it
Notting Hill—it had been passed on to him by his good friend Alison Lurie—which he outfitted exactly as he had his studio in Connecticut. There, looking out onto an English garden, he patiently wrote and rewrote the story of Anne Frank, alive and well across the ocean. As for Bloom, her professional activities that

interesting”—Bess Roth died suddenly of a heart attack. Roth was in London at the time. He had talked to his mother that morning; it was a Sunday, and he called his parents e
Mar 16, 2014 rated it liked it
Quick read about an entertaining author.

Portnoy’s Complaint [after Alexander Portnoy (1933 - ) A disorder in which strongly felt ethical and altruistic impulses are perpetually warring with extreme sexual longings, often of a perverse nature.
The title also alludes to the common literary form of complaint, such as The Lover's Complaint, which typically presents the speaker's comments on being a spurned lover.

funny, smart, neurotic Alexander Portnoy burst onto the public stage. Philip Roth's ficti
Richard Block
Jul 29, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Roth Unrivalled

Claudia Roth Pierpont's critical biography of Philip Roth is both critically astute and a biography of the writer. As a friend of Roth, she never veers into flattery, nor does she damn him for being so strong willed and opinionated. She seems to know him for what he is, and he is something else.

I got this book two days after I started the biography of Updike, another favourite. I read the first few chapters, felt a bit bored so I picked it up and read. I could not put it down. Ro
Sep 17, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: biography
Not much of a biography, just short introductions to all Roth's books. Still it has a few great moments, and the best comes early: By page 45, Roth is making out with Jackie Kennedy in her apartment while her children are asleep. When someone finally does a bio of him, it's going to great. ...more
Jan 20, 2014 rated it really liked it
Loved learning the stories behind the books.

8..Joe Louis on retiring: I did all I could with what I had
15..emigration from Polish Galicia
54..Portnoy..digressions, diversions, excursions were all permissable...were, in fact, the way to go...T Shandy example
58..parents' endless fears and admonitions...not judicious, but infuriating
75..A Farewell to Arms
172..made a life for his family out of sheer dutifulness and spirited decency
189..Sabbath's Theater began when Roth was looking for a place t
Mar 11, 2014 rated it it was amazing
A biography of the great Roth through a consideration of his books. There is more about the books than the man here (the definitive Roth biography is still to be written) and the author is a friend and confidant of Roth's but her insights into the novels are first rate and compelling. There is plenty of Roth here, as in this (self) evaluation:
“As an artist the nuance is your task. Your task is not to simplify. Even should you choose to write in the simplest way, a la Hemingway, the task remains
Jeffrey (Akiva) Savett
Apr 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Pierpont has written a masterful book on Roth's work and life. I list the subjects in that order purposefully: each chapter, unless I'm mistaken once or twice, focuses on the next in a chronological approach to Roth's literary ouevre. Pierpont (she's not related to Roth, by the way, despite her maiden name) then fills out each section with the biographical, political, literary and social contexts which gave birth to each work. So the book is delightful because we get some real and interesting li ...more
R.d. Mumma
Dec 11, 2013 rated it really liked it
This is a perfect model for an important writer's biography, with the stress placed on the books themselves and how the life influenced them, but it's hard to imagine another future "biographer" (if that's what Claudia Roth Pierpont is here) getting the same access to her subject and his insights into his own works.
Having read a majority of the novels, though not in the chronological fashion they're treated here, I thoroughly enjoyed Roth Unbound. I'm not sure if a reader with less exposure to
I am a huge fan of Roth's novels and this remarkable book was a wonderful way to re-connect with books that I hadn't read for almost forty years. It is easy to assume that everything that Roth writes is autobiographical 'despite his avowal that this naturalness was a hard-won technical achievement, something like the acting style of Marlon Brando'. Bang on! With Roth's co-operation, Claudia Roth Pierpoint details the arc of the novels (and other writings) against Roth's own life. Roth himself co ...more
Megan Malloy
Part biography, part criticism...Roth's unmistakable voice inevitably drowns out Pierpont's own narrative. She's a little too forgiving sometimes, particularly with his treatment of women in the Kepesh books when by then he was really old enough to know better... Also would have loved some more historical criticism about Roth's childhood in Newark, family history, etc.--the coverage of how his encounters abroad (particularly in Prague and Israel) influenced his work were some of the most compell ...more
Arthur Goldgaber
May 15, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography
I read "Roth Unbound" for a book club; I don't know if I would have read it on my own. This is a well-written book, but it could be called "Roth Cliff Notes" because most of the book is dedicated to providing synopsis of his books. I must admit I only read "Goodbye Columbus" and I have seen the movie at least twice, which is very good. There is less content in the book about Roth as a person and his life. He still seems like a mystery. He is a real recluse in a big house in Connecticut (I think ...more
Claudia Roth Pierpont offers an excellent overview of the life and work of Philip Roth, the greatest novelist this nation has yet produced during the post-World War II era. Revisiting Roth’s oeuvre in a single volume underscores how rich, varied, and prolific Roth was during his lengthy and frequently contentious career. Proceeding through Roth’s books in chronological order highlights both the frequency of the misfires that occurred relatively early in his career, and the late run of dominance ...more
Gerhard Schoeman
Jan 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Great read. Roth retired from writing because his memory started failing him. But the old man refuses to lie down. "The assailable man. The vulnerable man. The man who gets old, gets sick, can't perform anymore. The man brought down. We have been discussing this subject in his work, in a suitably encroaching twilight, with suitable seriousness, when the esteemed author suddenly rises and begins to act out the stunned and bloodied Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull. LaMotta has just been beaten to a pul ...more
Sep 07, 2013 rated it liked it
Claudia Pierpont has produced a readable literary biography but she shows that she is a journalist rather than a literary critic. Her evaluations of Roth's works tend to be superficial. She is also a journalist with an awkward and pedestrian writing style. Maybe the solemnity of her subject matter, as she perceives it, made her writing more stilted here than as usual in The New Yorker. Criticisms aside, this is a good book. Roth is an interesting character, and Pierpont covers all of his novels ...more
Robert Wechsler
Mar 16, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
I found this book a good read, but not quite the read I would have liked it to be. Pierpont places too much emphasis on the stories behind the stories, and it isn’t Roth’s stories that led me to read all of his novels. It’s his writing. There is little information about the writing behind the writing, or about the writing itself. But if there were, how many people would read the book?

This book can best be appreciated by those who have read a number of Roth's novels. For one thing, it gives away
Nov 07, 2014 rated it really liked it
The author, not related to the novelist, had the opportunity to sit several times with Philip Roth and ask good questions. I recently read that Roth is spending time with his authorized biographer, so we may have missed some things. I've read The Ghost Writer, the American Trilogy, and The Plot Against America and have enjoyed them all. There are works of his that I have no interest in, so this literary biography fills in a lot of holes for me. The men and women that have inspired his characters ...more
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