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The Human Stain

(The American Trilogy #3)

3.88  ·  Rating details ·  32,217 ratings  ·  2,094 reviews
It is 1988, the year in which America is whipped into a frenzy of prurience by the impeachment of a president, and in a small New England town, it is the last year of the life of the forcibly retired, disgraced, widowed professor Coleman Silk, whose own tragic exposure is played out against the background of the Clinton revelations.Coleman's secret has been kept for fifty ...more
Paperback, 361 pages
Published April 5th 2001 by Vintage (first published May 2000)
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Stefania Lazar All three novels forming the American Trilogy are stand-alones. They are only considered a trilogy because they have a similar setting (New…moreAll three novels forming the American Trilogy are stand-alones. They are only considered a trilogy because they have a similar setting (New England/New Jersey in the second half of the 20th century) and similar social themes.(less)
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Average rating 3.88  · 
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 ·  32,217 ratings  ·  2,094 reviews

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Jeffrey Keeten
Aug 02, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: book-to-film
All hed ever wanted, from earliest childhood on, as to be free: not black, not even white--just on his own and free. He meant no insult to no one by his choice, nor was he trying to irritate anyone whom he took to be his superior, nor was he staging some sort of protest against his race or hers. He recognized that to conventional people for whom everything was ready-made and rigidly unalterable what he was doing would never look correct. But to dare to be nothing more than correct had never been ...more
Here's what I know: if a book features some old dude fucking some younger lady, check the author's age. 100% of the time, he's the same age as the old dude.

The younger woman will be vulnerable. She will be attracted to the older man's security and wisdom. There is a power imbalance, and it's basically the same thing as when Tarzan saves Jane from the lion. It's embarrassing, immature wish-fulfillment. And even when it's written very well, it's boring.

This book is occasionally written very well,
Nov 23, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
See, I was an enormous fan of the Tony Hopkins/ Nicky Kidman film already. But incredibly, that adapatation was just the tip of an iceburg so rich, complex & incredible that is Philip Roth's masterpiece "The Human Stain." The film fails oh-so miserably to fulfill at least 40% of the emotional clout (which is significant and HEAVVVY) famously attributed to this, a gargantuan beauty of a book.

It seems that this late in the year, the magic wand waved by Literature is (constantly and repeatedly)
Katie Lynch
Sep 03, 2007 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: not really anyone
Shelves: yuck
Hey Roth, I know you have a great vocabulary...Just tell me a damn story.

Let me explain: I just read a very positive review of this book stating that Roth has such an expansive vocabulary, and every word seems painstakingly chosen, etc. That is exactly what I hate about this book! A narrative is supposed to flow, not make you resolve to study the dictionary more fastidiously.

For the record, I have a pretty good vocabulary and I thorouoghly enjoy creative uses of the English language. But I
Sep 15, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shaming Censors of Academic Speech: A Pox on the PC Police
My favorite Roth novel. I will miss the lusty old tale-hound.

I'm very depressed how in this country you can be told 'That's offensive' as though those two words constitute an argument. Christopher Hitchens

Coleman Silk, a professor of classics at a local esteemed college, has been accused of racism by two African American students in one of his classes, after he notices upon calling roll that these two enrolled students never attend his
David Schaafsma
I read Roths Goodbye, Columbus and Portnoys Complaint in college, and loved them. They were funny, especially in depicting the lusts and lives of young men, with literary flair. But I didnt read him again for no particular reason until relatively recently. Maybe it was something to do with my feeling tired of reading the same Roth main character, book after book, an aggressive male consumed by lust. But then I happened to read the non-fiction Patrimony, about his relationship with his father, ...more
Nov 05, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
The author sums it up perfectly on page 81
"You area a verbal master of extroadinary loquatiousness[P. Roth]. So Perspicatios. So fluent. A vocal master of the endless, ostentatious overelaborate sentence."


This book is the Jackson Pollock of our literary time. Just spatter everything all over the page and call it art. Roth goes on and on by using every single adjective he ever learned in his SAT class, in a row, then completely counters every argument he just made, so he can use all the
Michael Finocchiaro
A masterfully architected tale about race, shame, violence, and remembrance, The Human Stain is definitely one of Roth's masterpieces. From its first pages, the reader is drawn into the mystery of Coleman "Silky" Silk né Silkzweig and his tragic downfall. The characters here are vibrant and real, the descriptions terrifying at times but always captivating, I found it hard putting this book down as I was relentlessly driven to want to know what happened - the mark of truly great writing. If you ...more
Nov 22, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Philip Roth dealing with serious topics at this novel
discrimination, shame, identity, and judging others
the human between the truth, rumors and illusions
how hard to truly know someone
and how hard to live in a circle of lying and anger
lying to be accepted in a discriminatory community, and being angry for doing so
Jun 29, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2013
The danger with hatred is, once you start in on it, you get a hundred times more than you bargained for. Once you start, you can't stop.
Philip Roth, The Human Stain


Reading Roth is almost a spooky, sexual experience. I say that knowing this will sound absurd, trite and probably hyperbolic. But with Roth, his words are imbued with an almost carnal power, a spectral courage, energy and life. IT is like watching an absurdly talented musician do things with an instrument/with sound that bends the
Paul Bryant
So I watched the movie, and I really shouldn't have. To quote Pope Pius VII, it sometimes makes you wonder if you're on the right planet. Anthony Hopkins plays an extremely white black man! And the ever-crushingly beautiful Nicole Kidman plays an illiterate woman who's a janitor! Yes! And we're supposed to take this seriously! And the actor who plays the young Anthony Hopkins looks absolutely nothing like him! It's so insane. I believe they take a lot of drugs in Hollywood, and this movie ...more
Jul 20, 2007 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
oh, phillip roth! you CARD. you IMP. no one makes me laugh like you.

around this time last year i was on vacation on the cape reading american pastoral, another roth novella of fun and good humor! (read brinda's perfect description for an idea of that one.) i ended up forgetting the book there, with about forty pages left to read, and i never bought a new copy. i didn't care that i hadn't finished it because I WAS SO EXHAUSTED. the book wasn't bad. the book was great. but reading a roth opus is
Nov 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: american

America in 1998. Monica Lewinsky Bill Clinton sex scandal. Organic farming movement. Political correctness. Race. An ex professor, his lover, a war vet, his children. A secret.

This is the bookend to the America trilogy, American Pastoral (1970s) and I Married a Communist (1950s). This series paints his reflections on America over the last half century.

Gritty, turbulent and disturbing. The stories, like every Roth story, are raw and challenging. His language, genius. His candor,
Jul 24, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
[warning: spoiler!]

The thing that attracts me about this novel is quite simply how it is told. The narrator, Nathan Zuckerman, is also a character (albeit a relatively minor one although he grows in importance as the story continues). He is not, therefore, omniscient, although this becomes easy to forget. The novel is written as though he were omniscient, and then draws attention to this gap repeatedly at moments where Zuckerman explains who told him what, how he knows certain bits of
Vit Babenco
Apr 13, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Has being human in modern human society become a stigma? Judging by the novel The Human Stain humanism in the contemporary society is considered to be some kind of social defect.
He was not a firebrand or an agitator in any way. Nor was he a madman. Nor was he a radical or a revolutionary, not even intellectually or philosophically speaking, unless it is revolutionary to believe that disregarding prescriptive society's most restrictive demarcations and asserting independently a free personal
Nov 15, 2007 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This novel was disappointing - I expected much more from it. The story details the life of an African American college professor who has been "passing" as white since he was in his late teens. He hid this fact from everyone he knew, including his wife and children. His secret begins to unravel when he refers to two absent students as "spooks." Because the students are black, the remark is deemed racist, when he had actually intended the word to mean "ghosts." The writing is extremely dull and ...more
Philip Roth at the top of his game. Each time I read one of his books I'm further impressed by his talent.

The Human Stain digs deep into racism and its attendant politics in the 20th century. A light-skinned negro decides to "pass" as white and to do so successfully, he separates himself from his family. He enlists in the Navy as "white", attends college as "white", and marries a white woman as "white". After a long, distinguished career as a college professor and dean, he uses the word "spooks"
Andrew Smith
Jul 26, 2011 rated it really liked it
Set in New England, this book tells the story of a college professor accused of making a racist remark in one of his classes. The fact that what follows is patently unfair sets this book up as a commentary on extreme political correctness.

There is a lot of ground covered here - Vietnam, Clinton/Lewinsky, racism and ageing to name a few - and in typical Roth style it is rich, clever, complex and, at times, ranting. Not what I'd call a relaxing read but hugely worthwhile if you're in the mood.
The danger with hatred is, once you start in on it, you get a hundred times more than you bargained for. Once you start, you can't stop.

We leave a stain, we leave a trail, we leave our imprint. Impurity, cruelty, abuse, error, excrement, semen - theres no other way to be here. Nothing to do with disobedience. Nothing to do with grace or salvation or redemption. Its in everyone. Indwelling. Inherent. Defining. The stain that is there before its mark.

Description: It is 1998, the year in which
When Free Speech Turns Into an Orwellian Nightmare or PC Culture in Academia

Ive had some first and second-hand experience of that phenomenon. Well-meaning but utterly mis-guided people who find everything offensive, try to hush up people who disagree with them without seeing the enormous irony of using censorship tactics to keep those who think differently quiet. I have seen moral crusaders drag the names of people whose only fault was having a dark sense of humour through the mud, and use
Apr 16, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Human Stain is a schizophrenic, if not unevenly written novel. It is as though it is written by different people, with variable success. While there is a central narrator, Nathan Zuckerman, through whose eyes and ears, we learn about the anti-hero Coleman Silk, there are different voices that make up the whole story. The most annoying one is the ranter, who keeps going on and on about Bill Clinton and his sexual indiscretions. The tirades are tiresome and irrelevant to the plot. The other ...more
SheAintGotNoShoes !

The only reason on earth I decided to read this book was because I had seen it on film a number of times with actors that I really like ( Anthony Hopkins, Ed Harris and Nicole Kidman ) and thought the book might be really good. I was wrong - it was dreadful.

I had a taste of Mr Roth's ideas when I tried ( twice ) watching Portnoy's Complaint on dvd and being massively turned off by its crassness and schoolboy type tee-heeing over saying rude words that are there simply to
Feb 24, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The only Roth I'd ever read was Portnoy, back when it came out (practically), and the Plot Against America - which didn't impress me at all. So I came to this book, which I listened to on audible, with a prejudice against Roth. I didn't like him, thought he was a fake, he didn't "look" like much of a writer to me, etc. etc. I probably wouldn't have gotten very far if I had been reading -- listening being a very different experience. (I do so much driving, that I listen to these things in ...more
Jan Rice
Feb 23, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I can't remember when I read this; let's say circa 2004. Parts were underwhelming--maybe the part about the protagonist's affair with the younger woman. Parts, though, were excruciating--the part about what the protagonist has to endure to "pass," and what he would have given up had he not taken that course. Intolerable choices! Remembering that part I'll change to four stars. I also remember how the protagonist chose to marry a Jewish woman with wild hair--so that if his children didn't end up ...more
Vincent Saint-Simon
Oct 25, 2007 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Post-modern hipsters
Mr. Roth,

Your banal prose and elementary gimmicks do nothing to endear yourself to me, sir. If, in the future, a thought flies into your head and you would like to put it down on paper, I would first suggest that you hide or burn every John Updike novel you've been petting to sleep each night, get yourself a fistful of fresh adjectives, and wipe your nose. Far too much of you gets onto the page, sir, and none of it is to your credit.

Many people are impressed because you wrote American Pastoral.
Neal Adolph
Philip Roth is a great imposing figure in American letters. Perhaps the greatest, and perhaps the most imposing. When he announced his retirement from writing, famously having done so with a French magazine a few years back, even I, who had never read a book by him at that point, was a little shocked, a little saddened - his figure is so great that it affects those who know him only by name. Every year, as America gets passed over for the Nobel Prize again and again, American literary critics ...more
Jun 17, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: writers
1. The amazing language. Philip Roth has such an amazing vocabulary, first off. Every word he uses seems painstakingly chosen and every sentence carefully constructed. Honestly, the writing itself is what kept me interested.
2. The idea of the educational playing field being decimated by politics. My favorite sections of the book were the few scenes that took place on campus.
3. I liked the parallels between Coleman and Clinton. Very clever. The title alone gave
Marc Gerstein
Jun 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: classics
The basic story features Coleman Silk, a dean at a small New England college who turns the place around and upgrades the faculty. Eventually, he decides to step down and return to the classroom but quickly trips into a politically correct scandal and winds up resigning. His most vehement persecutor is the new dean of students, a young woman he once hired. His wife dies soon thereafter, killed, according to Coleman, by the stress of the scandal. And speaking of scandals, 71-year old Coleman ...more
robin friedman
Oct 12, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Roth's Human Stain

In a long writing career, Philip Roth has progressively deepened his themes and his understanding of human character as well as his skill at the novelist's craft. His novel, "The Human Stain" is both entertaining and thought-provoking. It is a worthy addition to American fiction of the early 21st century.

The title of the book sets forth its primary theme. A major part of human life is tied to human sexuality and to physicality. People ignore or downplay this aspect at their
K.D. Absolutely
Jul 18, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to K.D. by: 501 Must Read Books and 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die
Shelves: 1001-core
New Jersey. 1940's to 1998. The main protagonist is a 71-year old former boxing champion and Athena's dean of faculty, Coleman Silk. He was dismissed from the university, called Athena because he referred, though innocently, the two absent black students as "spooks." Prior to his dismissal, he was having an affair with Faunin Farley, a 34-year old janitress of the school.

This 2000 novel of Philip Roth won the PEN/Faulkner Award and said to be the best novel he has written. This is my 3rd book
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Philip Milton Roth was an American novelist. He gained early literary fame with the 1959 collection Goodbye, Columbus (winner of 1960's National Book Award), cemented it with his 1969 bestseller Portnoy's Complaint, and has continued to write critically-acclaimed works, many of which feature his fictional alter ego, Nathan Zuckerman. The Zuckerman novels began with The Ghost Writer in 1979, and ...more

Other books in the series

The American Trilogy (3 books)
  • American Pastoral (The American Trilogy, #1)
  • I Married a Communist (The American Trilogy, #2)

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