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Robert Lowell, Setting the River on Fire: A Study of Genius, Mania, and Character

4.13  ·  Rating Details ·  107 Ratings  ·  26 Reviews
In this magisterial study of the relationship between illness and art, the best-selling author of An Unquiet Mind, Kay Redfield Jamison, brings an entirely fresh understanding to the work and life of Robert Lowell (1917-1977), whose intense, complex, and personal verse left a lasting mark on the English language and changed the public discourse about private matters.

In his
Hardcover, 404 pages
Published February 28th 2017 by Knopf Publishing Group
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Jeffrey Hatcher
Feb 04, 2017 Jeffrey Hatcher rated it really liked it
The public, the student, and even health-care practitioners need more biographical exposure to people with mental illnesses. The only way to really grasp the nature and diversity of mental illness is via empathy. Brains have no moving parts and x-rays, MRI's and autopsies come up decidedly short for imparting understanding. More importantly, mental illnesses frequently need an intimate, real - world perspective to be best understood. Kay Redfield Jamison helps fill this gap with a study of Rober ...more
Julie Ehlers
Mar 24, 2017 Julie Ehlers marked it as tossed-aside
Ugh, the writing is just deadly. I've been constantly looking for other things to do so I don't have to pick this up. That means it's time to move on.
"I have a nine-months' daughter,
young enough to be my granddaughter.
like the sun she rises in her flame-flamingo infants' wear."
"What can the dove of Jesus give
You now but wisdom, exile? Stand and live,
The dove has brought an olive branch to eat."
"When the Lord God formed man from the sea’s slime
And breathed into his face the breath of life,
And blue-lung’d combers lumbered to the kill.
The Lord survives the rainbow of His will."

A new book is the first
Apr 01, 2017 Jennifer rated it really liked it
My only complaint is that it got a little long and tedious, but this is a brilliant portrait of a complicated, talented man. Jamison's prose is gorgeous. I listened to the audio book and at times couldn't tell if she was quoting Lowell's poetry or writing her own descriptions. It was often the latter.
Beverly Hollandbeck
Mar 23, 2017 Beverly Hollandbeck rated it liked it
I once had a college professor for a poetry class who believed that the explication of a poem should not involve the poet's life at all. She believed that when a poet wrote, he/she took on a "persona" that was not necessarily the poet. This book about the relationship between Robert Lowell's poetry and his bipolar disease blows up that theory. Lowell is his poetry. It's as much Robert Lowell as his nose. So. Dr. Hunt, you need to go back and rethink that grade you gave me for my Sylvia Plath com ...more
Very excited about this one.
Lynda Archer
May 13, 2017 Lynda Archer rated it really liked it
Robert Lowell was a Pulitzer prize winning poet, extremely bright and he suffered from bipolar illness / manic depression. Jamison does an amazing job of taking us inside the life , from birth to death, of someone who is brilliant, creative and suffers from a major mental illness. She makes an exhaustive examination of the connection between mania and creativity. I have read other books by Jamison, in particular, The Unquiet Mind, in which Jamison writes about her own journey with bipolar illnes ...more
Aida Ghazar
Mar 27, 2017 Aida Ghazar rated it liked it
This is an interesting book .The author has done a very thorough research on Robert Lowell,his personal and literary life and his poetry and prose.
Robert Lowell was a gifted poet who was suffering from mania and depression while creating very original and beautiful works of art .Ms. Jamison had explored deep in these issues and had tried hard to explain why and how the disorder had affected Lowell's work.Yet one wonders why such an exhaustingly detailed study on mania and depression? This is not
Mar 20, 2017 Carl rated it it was amazing
Seventeen years ago I retired from my academic career as a scientist to immerse myself in poetry: in reading it, in writing it, and in studying it and poets.

Along the way I did encounter Robert Lowell and his poetry and specifically liked a couple of them: Skunk Hour and For The Union Dead. As for the poet himself I came away with the impression that he was a bit of an oddball, but no sense or perspective on what he contributed to poetry until I read Adam Kirsch's The Wounded Surgeon.

But I still
May 25, 2017 Susan rated it really liked it
A fascinating book by an author who has written widely on bi-polar illness, from which Robert Lowell suffered. Interestingly, she does not identify herself as someone with bi-polar illness, though her earliest work was about her psychological struggles and successes. (Or if she did, I didn't see the reference.) Lowell was a powerful and successful poet (Pulitzer Prize twice) who was hospitalized numerous times while suffering from mania. He then returned home depressed and had to repair relation ...more
Kevin Adams
Mar 20, 2017 Kevin Adams rated it it was amazing
I've always wanted to learn more about Robert Lowell. I don't know why specifically. I've heard the name, knew the basic "bullet points" on him. The great poet, manic depressive, Bostonian...etc. When I saw this book was coming out I figured here was a perfect opportunity to learn that and more. I was blown away. Not only by the writing, that was phenomenal, but in Lowell. How a person so revered in a field could continue to be successful while bearing this burden on his psyche was incredible. K ...more
May 16, 2017 Neil rated it liked it
I have very mixed feelings about this title. First, let me say I'm a long-time fan of Lowell's poetry, and I'm interested in its connection to his manic depression. So I was excited that an author who writes in such a distinguished way about mental illness was taking him up as a subject.

But I don't think this book is a total success. It's very good at explicating the nature of manic depression, its treatment in Lowell's lifetime, and it's horrible effects on his art and his relationships. Still,
Jun 25, 2017 Bryant rated it it was amazing
This is a sensitive, poetic, and rich psychological biography. I learned a lot about manic-depressive illness and about Lowell's peculiar bouts of madness and lucidity, unreachability and love. His poetry means more to me now.

The only time the book faltered, in my view, was when it tried to have things both ways, explaining Lowell's madness as both the mechanism of and obstacle to his genius. I think both/and is probably right and suits Lowell's complexity, but somehow Jamison's middle section
May 13, 2017 Elizabeth rated it liked it
I did a skim-read after about 1/5th through - and just hit upon passages that drew me in - I am not a passionate Lowell reader and found this book (as with many of late - my thoughts always are "where's the editor?") padded, too dense with details not all that compelling - repetitions of earlier info. I wasn't all that keen on Jamison's writing style - trying a bit too hard - for all that - it was well-researched and it gave me insights into his works, plus into those burdened with bi-polar diso ...more
Connie Johnson
Jun 11, 2017 Connie Johnson rated it really liked it
This book is a fascinating historical account of bipolar disorder and all the struggles of Robert Lowell. So many with this disease suffer silently, and yet,the honesty of this biography can be helpful for people who come into contact with poorly or even well managed bipolar disorder.i came to understand the nature of the struggles in a very real way. The story rambles a bit but worth finishing.
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Connie Johnson
Mania unleashed

This book is a fascinating historical account of bipolar disorder and all the struggles of Robert Lowell. So many with this disease suffer silently, and yet,the honesty of this biography can be helpful for people who come into contact with poorly or even well managed bipolar disorder.i came to understand the nature of the struggles in a very real way. The story rambles a bit but worth finishing.
Jul 08, 2017 Matt rated it really liked it
Very interesting book about a very interesting poet. Regardless of whether you are interested in Lowell, this is a fascinating exploration of the connection between creativity and mood disorders; specifically, manic-depressive (bipolar) illness. "For the Union Dead" has always been one of my favorites-

" monument
except the ditch,..."
Mar 26, 2017 Heather rated it really liked it
This was a very interesting book. It was very hard reading and only could do it in stages. If this was your profession it would be easier and not take as long to read. But I did enjoy it for the ordinary public I found it interesting.
Jason Mcclure
May 18, 2017 Jason Mcclure rated it really liked it
Outstanding insights into a complicated mind.
Apr 08, 2017 Jason rated it it was amazing
There's nothing to be said about strength yearning for the peace of death and finding no solace in art, truthfully crafted.

Colleen rated it really liked it
Apr 16, 2017
Victoria rated it it was amazing
Dec 31, 2016
Andres  Martin
Andres Martin rated it it was amazing
Mar 22, 2017
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Jun 12, 2017
Leonard rated it really liked it
May 23, 2017
Tangi rated it liked it
Mar 31, 2017
Tom rated it it was amazing
Feb 19, 2017
Mar 26, 2017 MG rated it really liked it
I read an ARC copy. This book is another winner from Kay Redfield Jamison. Robert Lowell has a fascinating life story that's well worth exploring. Especially insightful is the study of mental illness impacting upon, and enhancing, a genius mind. I highly recommend this book.
Apr 12, 2017 Michael rated it it was amazing
Lowell’s quote “the light at the end of the tunnel is just the light of an oncoming train” is perhaps the perfect crystallization of his adult life, and his cycle of mania. Jaminson captures this beautifully in a biography that’s both an insightful portrait of the poet and an erudite dissertation on the illness that altered his life.
Maryann rated it it was amazing
Apr 05, 2017
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Kay Redfield Jamison (born June 22, 1946) is an American clinical psychologist and writer who is one of the foremost experts on bipolar disorder. She is Professor of Psychiatry at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and is an Honorary Professor of English at the University of St Andrews.
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