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3.62  ·  Rating details ·  2,960 ratings  ·  251 reviews
Abe Ravelstein is a brilliant professor at a prominent midwestern university and a man who glories in training the movers and shakers of the political world. He has lived grandly and ferociously-and much beyond his means. His close friend Chick has suggested that he put forth a book of his convictions about the ideas which sustain humankind, or kill it, and much to ...more
Paperback, 233 pages
Published May 1st 2001 by Penguin Books (first published April 2000)
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Average rating 3.62  · 
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 ·  2,960 ratings  ·  251 reviews

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Ways of Dying

This is a novel about ageing; more specifically about that stage in life when death has become a persistently conscious prospect. But about whose ageing and whose death is debatable - that of the eponymous Ravelstein; or of the narrator, Chick, who is preparing to write Ravelstein’s biography; or, perhaps, of the reader who may have yet to reach that point of maturity? So I don’t concur with the conventional wisdom that Ravelstein is merely or primarily a tribute to the friendship
Sep 20, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: american-lit
I've read all of Bellow, the best American novelist during my lifetime, though Updike became, in his last books, a close second--and a better reviewer.
I do not say this simply because Bellow's best friend at the U MN was my Ph.D. advisor Leonard Unger: a charming photo of them on a sofa smoking and laughing, with their wives framing it, was printed in Rolling Stone in the 50s. Go to Facebook, Alan P Bruno, to see the photo. (In the pic I think Leonard was just cracking one of his myriad jokes,
For most literary Americans of my generation, Saul Bellow has largely been forgotten. It seems that when he's thought of at all, it's as a hopelessly out-of-touch white conservative, someone whose artistic ability was ultimately clouded by his stance. While Céline, Hamsun, and other reactionaries have been rehabilitated, Bellow's unsexy Republican uncle attitudes are a tough nut to swallow. And consequently, we're not likely to pick up Herzog any time soon (and frankly, I think it kind of ...more
Lark Benobi
When it was published critics called it one of Bellow's "minor" books. I disagree. It's softer and subtler than Augie March or Henderson the Rain King, but the narrative exuberance here is unsurpassed even by Bellow himself in earlier decades. Because the book is at its heart the story of friendship between two men who loved one another, Bellow's inability to write about women except in a misogynistic way is a minor flaw in this particular book, one that barely registered for me here, even ...more
Bob Wake
Mar 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
[Reviewed in 2000]

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that Saul Bellow at 84 has written a novel as graceful and funny as Ravelstein. But who could have predicted that he would also stir up a hornets’ nest of controversy? The character of Abe Ravelstein is based on Bellow’s late friend and colleague, Allan Bloom, author of The Closing of the American Mind, the 1987 bestseller that became a lightning rod for the culture wars of the Reagan era. What hasn’t heretofore been public knowledge is that
robin friedman
Aug 16, 2014 rated it really liked it
Ravelstein And Chick

"Ravelstein" (2000) is a novel-memoir of the friendship between Allan Bloom and the author, Saul Bellow. In addition to exploring the friendship of the two men, the book's primary themes, to me, are the nature of love and the necessity of facing death, one's own and those dear to one.

In the novel, Abe Ravelstein is based upon Allan Bloom, a professor of political philosophy at the University of Chicago and a student of Leo Strauss (called Davorr in the book). Professor Bloom
Jan 04, 2011 rated it it was ok
Allan Bloom wrote a bestseller titled The Closing of the American Mind. I had not read this book when I began to read Ravelstein by Saul Bellow. Nor did I really know who Allan Bloom was, or even that the lead character in Bellow's novel was based on the real and famous professor Allan Bloom.

Nor did I know what Bellow was talking about in a good half of his allusions during the course of the book.

As I read it, I pondered the following questions: Is a novel without a plot still a novel? Or is it
Jan 21, 2009 rated it did not like it
After reading some of the other reviews here, I now know this is based on an actual person. I suspected it was, but couldn't get myself to care enough about the characters or the story to find out. I tried hard to finish the book, but then realized I was just waiting for my next requested books be become available at the library.

I guess if I knew about Allen Bloom or his work, maybe this would help support some interest. The author seems to want us to take on faith that Ravelstein is a riveting,
Simon Robs
Dec 15, 2015 rated it really liked it
(Second reading years apart.)

Saul Bellow inhabits his books, his peep constellation and in particular those close to him usually get his treatments up close and personal. That's da rub so say many a peep &/or critic. Yet and so, as "JR" (Gaddis punk peep) 'it's what you do' in creating nonetheless a fictive world in search of reality. So it goes here with Bellow's octogenarian delivery "Ravelstein" another of his larger than life characters like Humbolt & Herzog who is or is not NOT
While I adore Bellow, I didn't like this at all. Bellow here is aging, and playing Boswell to Alan Bloom's Johnson. But Bloom, a well known Straussian and epicure, though he must have been charismatic and high-IQ , was an intellectual hack, imo..., and so Bellow's hagiography falls flat. Plus, Ravelstein spends as much time and effort on conspicuous consumption as he spends on the life of the mind...and comes off as rather vain, self-centered, and with an inflated sense of his own ...more
Jan 21, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Is Saul Bellow the best novelist of the 20th century? I don't know, but I loved this fictionalized account of his friendship with fellow academic Allan Bloom.

Bellow describes his fictionalized wife Vela: “She had to be seen as a beautiful woman. But it was beauty-parade beauty, and required preparation at a West Point or Hapsburg hussar level.”
Sean Blake
Jan 25, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
Ravelstein alternates between the beautifully philosophical and humorous to the achingly boring and mundane. However when it was at its best, Saul Bellow's writing is devastatingly good. This was my first Bellow and certainly not my last.
Lea Ann
Apr 03, 2016 rated it really liked it
How fitting that I finished reading Ravelstein while on the plane home from my weekend visit to my grandmother in Canada. You see, Saul Bellow was born in Canada and when he was nine his parents moved to Humboldt Park in Chicago. Bellow eventually attended the University of Chicago and Northwestern University.

And despite my also having a Canadian background, and living in Chicago, and the fact that Saul Bellow has won both the Pulitzer Prize (1976 - Humboldt's Gift) and the Nobel Prize for
M. D.  Hudson
Jun 01, 2019 rated it liked it
I read Ravelstein when it first came out almost 20 years ago - it was a big deal then, everyone pretty sure it was Saul Bellow's last novel, and the period-piece "scandal" of Alan Bloom's AIDS-related death still being news (Ravelstein is pretty much based on Alan Bloom, Bellow's friend, and public intellectual who hit the surprising big time with his hest-seller The Closing of the American Mind in 1987). According to Wikipedia, Bloom's friends still won't confirm he had AIDS, although the ...more
Mar 26, 2013 rated it really liked it
The wikipedia says it’s a roman à clef – and that the key to it is that Ravelstein is, indeed, Allan Bloom, who was a very intimate friend of Saul B.

Bellow was eighty-five when he wrote it, and it was his last book (he died five years later, in 2005). It is evidently mature and deep – his insights are precious as usually. Only now they are clearly the product of an overworked brain. You can almost hear this coming like a jumbled train of thought from a bright, intellectual, happily tired old
Oct 06, 2008 rated it it was ok
Saul Bellow's slim eulogy to the late Allen Bloom in novel form has its moments, but it is ultimately a superficial achievement. Banking on the colorful eccentricities of the late professor of philosophy, Bellow is content to retreat from anything resembling a story. I preferred the intricate weavings of philosophy, art, and life that Bellow was able to create and Herzog, whereas in Ravelstein he takes it for granted that the subject is supremely interesting to the reader. Still, I admit that ...more
Michael Finocchiaro
This is a loving and moving account - barely fictionalized - of Bellow's friendship to Allan Bloom and his fulfillment of a deathbed promise he made to write his memoirs. As such, there is not really a plot or any significant action in the plot, but rather with the typical Bellowesque surgical precision, descriptions of how they met, what Ravelstein-Bloom were like, how Ravelstein-Bloom died and how Chick-Bellow nearly died himself before finally committing the story to paper. The world indeed ...more
Timothy F. Stolz Jr
Jun 24, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Saul Bellow’s novel, Ravelstein is within the literary genre called roman à clé; meaning a novel with a key, or a secret meaning that elucidates otherwise esoteric components of the novel’s plot, characters, or setting. Yes, Bellow’s prose is beautifully fluid, evocative, at times darkly humorous, and engulfing. Yet, the driving question is, what was the key?

Those of my own generation are likely too young to so easily recognize, but those who remain with a memory, or a knowledge, of higher
Lukasz Pruski
Jul 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
"Often the dying become extremely severe. We will still be here when they're gone and it's not easy for them to forgive us."

Finally I have begun to fill a huge gap in my Great American Literature education: I have just read my first novel by Saul Bellow - Ravelstein (2000). What a great read it has been! True, the first 20 or so pages are highly intimidating: the author assumes the reader's erudition and complete focus, and the text almost overwhelms with hyper-intellectualism. But having
Sep 24, 2011 rated it liked it
If this book is a thinly veiled account of Bellow’s relationship with fellow academic Allan Bloom, I wonder why Bellow did not write it as such, and instead relied on the novel form. The novel disappoints, for it flatlines on story and character (even though Ravelstein is a multifaceted personality), whereas a biography or memoir of the real duo would have been more impactful.

Ravelstein and Chick (Bloom and Bellow respectively, as I made out) are a modern day Socrates and Plato. Ravelstein is a
Apr 21, 2009 rated it it was ok
Others are thrown by what they label (lazily, I think) the "stream of consciousness" style of writing. What's actually taking place is a forward moving narrative coupled with the reflections it inspires a la "Henderson, the Rain King", etc. My biggest criticism is that the great charm of the first section disappeared. To be fair, outside circumstances have put my mind in a million places at the time of reading this, so maybe I'm not in the best place to judge. Also, this may be the sort of book ...more
Oct 30, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobooks
I listened to this on audio on a car trip. I really enjoyed the story. The title character is compelling and contradictory in a way that kept my interest. Later, I found out he was based on Allan Bloom, who wrote "The Closing of the American Mind." Which is a problem. In my politically correct youth of the early '90s, Bloom was universally reviled for being some kind of conservative apologist. Now I suppose I have to go back and revisit his book and possibly revise my prejudices. How tiresome!
Thai Son
Aug 31, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: novels
Not as enjoyable as Herzog
Dec 27, 2013 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Is the intention of this book to make the reader feel ignorant and uneducated? if so, then I should have given it 5 stars.
Aug 20, 2008 rated it did not like it
Shelves: fiction
so bad I could not even finish this book.
Justin Walshaw
Jan 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Ravelstein is Bloom. Martin Amis liked it heaps.
Ron Charles
Jan 03, 2014 rated it really liked it
When Toni Morrison publishes a novel, she gets her face on the cover of Time magazine. When Saul Bellow, America's other Nobel Prize-winning writer, publishes a novel, he gets his face on a wanted poster.

"Ravelstein," Bellow's latest roman clef, is a memorial to his late friend Alan Bloom and an essay on the challenges of biography. It's a masterly piece of writing and his first full-length work in more than a decade, but it will have trouble finding an audience - or forgiveness.

Bellow and Bloom
Dec 03, 2015 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Anyone who loves facile language
Recommended to Lily by: Local library book group
Shelves: read-2016
What a reading experience! Delightful! Only my stinginess deprives it of five stars. Well, maybe a little bit the devolution near the end into, whatever we call it when a friend drops into a long story of his or her own near death illness experiences (a variety of kvetching?). But Bellow was already in his eighties when he wrote this.

The language, the humor, the repartee, the settings, the details, the digressions into academia- politics-marriages, the bigger-than-life protagonists all make this
Jason Hillenburg
Feb 03, 2012 rated it really liked it
The last novel Bellow published in his lifetime, Ravelstein is a thinly veiled portrait of Bellow's friend, teacher and author of The Closing of the American Mind, Alan Bloom. It chronicles their friendship and Bloom's final years suffering from the debilitating effects of HIV. Critically hailed as a miraculous return to form by many when it was published, the novel does contain many hallmarks of Bellow's art. The immense intelligence presiding over the novel, the self-deprecating wit, and his ...more
Michael Scott
Dec 01, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoir, fantasy
Part memoir, part fiction, Ravelstein is the story of life at the peak of the intellectuality in what looks like the 1980s. There is no real topic for this book, just a constant tinkering with modern ideas and their interpretation: the commoditization of ideas, the role of the modern man, the matrimony, the displacement that comes with success, the decay of the human body in spite of advancements in medicine (read also To the Friend Who Did Not Save My Life by Herve Guibert), the new trivial. ...more
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What Saul Bellow book should I read? 8 562 Aug 30, 2012 03:30AM  

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Saul Bellow was born in Lachine, Quebec, a suburb of Montreal, in 1915, and was raised in Chicago. He attended the University of Chicago, received his Bachelor's degree from Northwestern University in 1937, with honors in sociology and anthropology, did graduate work at the University of Wisconsin, and served in the Merchant Marines during World War II.

Mr. Bellow's first novel, Dangling Man, was
“Associate with the noblest people you can find; read the best books; live with the mighty; but learn to be happy alone.” 75 likes
“Strict seriousness was far more dangerous than any joke.” 18 likes
More quotes…