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Sharp: The Women Who Made an Art of Having an Opinion

3.44  ·  Rating details ·  771 ratings  ·  178 reviews
The ten brilliant women who are the focus of Sharp came from different backgrounds and had vastly divergent political and artistic opinions. But they all made a significant contribution to the cultural and intellectual history of America and ultimately changed the course of the twentieth century, in spite of the men who often undervalued or dismissed their work.

These ten

Kindle Edition, 384 pages
Published April 10th 2018 by Grove Press
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3.44  · 
Rating details
 ·  771 ratings  ·  178 reviews

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Paul Bryant
Mary McCarthy saw Susan Sontag at a party, where else, and said to her

“I hear you’re the new me.”


This account of the careers of Dorothy Parker, Hannah Arendt, Mary McCarthy, Susan Sontag, Pauline Kael, Joan Didion, Nora Ephron, Renata Adler and Janet Malcolm with walk-on parts for Rebecca West and Zora Neale Hurston was kinda interesting and I must also confess kinda just a little bit boring too.

I have read biographies of three of them already and am a big fan of Janet Malcolm already but th
Apr 18, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2018
What a disappointment.

This is a book about women who built careers on criticism, yet does very little to really, truly delve into the minefield of what it means to be a person whose very existence is “critical” (Living While Female) while turning the mirror around on the societies that deemed them critical in the first place. The writing is light and easy to absorb, and the women discussed are interesting figures, which makes it all the more impressive that I was in no way *excited* about this
Feb 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
Gobbled this book up in a few sittings. Loved reading more about women I already admired, and learning a lot about a few I didn't know much about. A beautifully written and well researched book.
Michelle Dean’s book consists of a collection of mini-biographies of women whose connection, apart from their sex, is that some people found them to be sharp. The parts of this I read, before I shifted to skim-reading and finally abandonment, were unsophisticated and overly descriptive, enlivened by the occasional entertaining anecdote, and presided over by an author whose voice has a tendency to lapse into, what I can only describe, as a profoundly irritating, stereotypically breathless, girlis ...more
Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for providing this book in exchange for an honest review.

A recent trend in nonfiction revolves around anthologies of great women. Across ages and genres, notable women of the past are being highlighted in collections of their lives and works. When I saw the cover for SHARP, I knew immediately I wanted to read about its female writers and intellectuals, some familiar and others less familiar to me. I really enjoyed this book and its careful approach to the
Nick Imrie
I wrote this book because this history has never been as well-known as it deserves to be, at least outside certain isolated precincts of New York. Biographies had been written of all of them and devoured by me. But as biographies do, each book considered these women in isolation, a phenomenon unto herself, missing the connections I felt I could see. The forward march of American literature is usually chronicled by way of its male novelists: the Hemingways and Fitzgeralds, the Roths and Bellows
(2.5) “People have trouble with women who aren’t ‘nice,’ … who have the courage to sometimes be wrong in public.” In compiling 10 mini-biographies of twentieth-century women writers and cultural critics who weren’t afraid to be unpopular, Dean (herself a literary critic) celebrates their feminist achievements and insists “even now … we still need more women like this.” Her subjects include Rebecca West, Mary McCarthy, Susan Sontag, Joan Didion, Nora Ephron and Renata Adler. She draws on the wome ...more
Apr 26, 2018 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Wanda, Bettie
From BBC Radio 4 - Book of the week:
As part of the Algonquin Round Table, Dorothy Parker established her reputation as one of the most brilliant wits in New York and came to epitomize the liberated woman of the 1920s.

Mary McCarthy
As both a novelist and a critic McCarthy was noted for bitingly satiric commentaries on marriage, sexual expression and the role of women in contemporary urban America.

Susan Sontag
Susan Sontag was a brilliant essayist - inquisitive, analytical, fearlessly outspoken. Her
Gabriela Ventura
Jan 15, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ensaio
Afiadas reúne uma série de perfis de críticas de filmes, de arte, de música, romancistas, diretoras de cinema, poetas, filósofas. Mulheres que passaram a vida envolvidas com diversos trabalhos intelectuais ao longo do século XX e se aproximaram ou rechaçaram as sufragistas, as feministas, as próprias contemporâneas.

Não são ensaios críticos, mas boas introduções ao pensamento mulheres complicadas, multifacetadas, interessantíssimas. Algumas têm mais bibliografia disponível e são, portanto, mais
Christine Henneberg
Jul 03, 2018 rated it did not like it
1 star (audio version)--with the caveat that I read only about 3/4 of the book.

I found these essays on smart and opinionated ("sharp") women writers to be dry and unimaginative. The writer's own voice was completely missing; I didn't know why she cared (or wasn't convince that she did care) about these women, and I found myself not caring, either.

I will also say that she offers an almost offensively inadequate explanation for the homogeneity of her chosen sample of women writers. "In a more pe
Jun 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
Enormously enjoyable and informative group biography of women who never shrank from voicing their opinions at a time when women were rarely encouraged to do so. From Hannah Arendt to Dorothy Parker, Rebecca West to Susan Sontag, the book covers a lot of ground and is an excellent introduction to these always interesting and often controversial women. Highly recommended.
Alex Sarll
A collection studying various female writers who at least began in the 20th century, all of whom were at one or another time called 'sharp' - which may seem a bit of a stretch, as premises go, but it stands for a whole constellation of qualities: women who because they weren't 'nice' were sometimes considered destructive, but who also tended to have at least somewhat vexed relationships to the feminist movement one might have expected to welcome them. I requested it from Netgalley principally be ...more
Mar 22, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, biography
Sharp brings together a dozen women authors and critics from the twentieth century—Dorothy Parker, Rebecca West, Hannah Arendt, Mary McCarthy, Susan Sontag, Pauline Kael, Joan Didion, Nora Ephron, Renata Adler, Janet Malcolm, Zora Neale Hurston, and Lillian Hellman—who were, in various ways, professionally opinionated. Michelle Dean has an excellent eye for pulling quotations both from the work of these women and from the other literary figures with whom they interacted, and that was one of the ...more
Megan Abbott
Apr 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
An outstanding, must-read book--lovers of Didion, Sontag, Dorothy Parker or all the other brilliant women explored here: this is for you. A gift to the discussion of 20th-century arts and letters. And a lovesong to smart women.
Sarah Perchikoff
Before reading Sharp by Michelle Dean, I wasn't under the impression that the women in this book were going to become some kind of role models for me, but I guess I expected them to be a little more together, maybe a little less petty. Now, don't get me wrong, I love some petty. Especially nowadays, petty can get you through the day, but I guess I was expecting more elegance from these women who were such trailblazers in their day. They cheated on their husbands (and were cheated on by their hus ...more
Sep 01, 2018 rated it it was ok
A who’s who of NYC white female 20th century writers & their foibles, especially romantic ones. Anyone of color is snubbed. Men are still the movers & shakers—the women are allowed to enter their orbit, or so it would seem from the narrative. This is NOT a scholarly book nor does it seem to have been either thought through or edited very deeply. The last paragraph had me writing “HUH?!” next to it as it was a sexist summation and prescription for women. Had the book been written about ma ...more
Jul 26, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: humor, nonfiction
I loved the profiles of each of the women and how they made their mark on criticism and essaying. That said, I wish that they had covered a group that was a little more diverse (Zora Neale Hurston is the only author of color mentioned, and she has to share a chapter) and that a little less of the focus was spent on trying to show how all of these women interconnected and influenced one another - sometimes they really didn't, other than writing in overlapping timeframes in different venues/areas ...more
Mar 29, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: arc, ebook-owned
This wasn't precisely what I had expected, but seeing as this turns out to be an intellectual history of notable 20th century female public thinkers, I was quite happy with what I got. Michelle Dean has a real talent for picking choice quotes and events from her subjects, and I was delighted that she takes us through how these brilliant women were socially and professionally collected. This book made me want to drop everything and pick up all the collections of writings from these women that I c ...more
Claudia Tessier
Feb 22, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An interesting exploration of 10 "sharp" women of the 20th century, all writers and feminist influencers in one way or another. The author does an excellent job of not only discussing each woman but also demonstrating links among them. Of value in relation to understanding each woman and the world in which she confronted herself, her admirers, her critics, her obstacles, and how each used her literary style to influence society and survive.
Apr 22, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Conflicted is how I feel about this book. I enjoyed reading about Dorothy Parker; I had a hard time with the other writers. Perhaps it is because the author went to the pettiness and the criticism of each of the females authors had with each other. She threw in a good measure included the criticism of the women by men who were also critics as well. I guess a book about women writers who were critics would be full of criticisms, but it felt like just a diatribe of complaining that had a textbook ...more
Jul 09, 2018 rated it it was ok
This is a gossipy and sensationalized view of the intimacies of notable women writers of the 20th century under the guise of being a serious study of their professional achievements. Admittedly, it is hard to put down--like a bag of chips you know are not good for you. Michelle Dean's genius is subtle titillation coupled with faux innocence of the salacious nature of her expose. Perhaps her goal is to imitate the "sharp" women she profiles, but there is a fine line between "sharpness" and "meann ...more
Victoria Sadler
Mar 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
Loved this. Sharp by Michelle Dean gives insights into the lives and work of some of the 20th century’s most influential women writers. Dorothy Parker, Rebecca West, Hannah Arendt, Mary McCarthy, Susan Sontag, Pauline Kael, Joan Didion Nora Ephron Renata Adler & Janet Malcolm...
It doesn’t deify these women at all. Michelle really examines their politics and outlook, but also considers the context of their work.
Apr 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
If this book does nothing more than get the next generations reading its subjects, it will have done enough. But it does a whole lot more.

Michelle Dean is a treasure. Here, she gives us chewy, arguable opinions and rigorous research. I’m jealous of the deep reading she did for this. History and criticism in a selective history of criticism. Delicious.
Jennifer Burk
Aug 12, 2018 rated it it was ok
I really wanted to like this book. It’s thoroughly researched but ultimately boring.
Riley Ashby
Mar 08, 2018 rated it did not like it
Shelves: netgalley, nonfiction
Honestly, this just felt like reading a textbook.
Dec 12, 2018 rated it liked it
I enjoyed learning about these women, some who I already knew well like Nora Ephron, some who I was just getting to know like Mary McCarthy. I also loved the title of this book; I thought it was smart and catchy. I admire Dean's intent (as mentioned in her preface) to explore the "connections" between these famous writers of the twentieth century. I found these connections between the women, who I primarily knew as Dean herself stated in "isolation," interesting. I also respected the personal in ...more
Jill Elizabeth
May 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I am fascinated by the "early" woman thinkers - those women who developed a reputation for intellectual rigor and originality in a time (the early 1900s) when such domains were considered the exclusive property of men. I was familiar with nearly all of the phenomenally talented women in this collection - some more than others - but had no idea of the details of most of their lives, and was fascinated to see how the developed intellectually, creatively, and in their perspectives toward art, polit ...more
Maggie Tiede
May 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Sharp: The Women Who Made an Art of Having an Opinion is a biography-cum-reckoning about the legacy of ten extraordinary women: Dorothy Parker, Rebecca West, Hannah Arendt, Mary McCarthy, Nora Ephron, Susan Sontag, Renata Adler, Joan Didion, Janet Malcolm, and Zora Neale Hurston.

Occasionally Michelle Dean gets off zingers every bit as cool and cutting as those of her subjects, but usually her writing style is warm and nuanced, making Sharp feel like a meaningful conversation about these women r
I so enjoyed this, and felt like I was being introduced to a canon I would have preferred to the one I was presented in high school. I immediately went and placed holds on 7 books at the library once I finished this one.

I was familiar with a few of the women's names, and it was wonderful to learn new tidbits about the ones I knew. Learning that Joan Didion was a military kid, like me, made me feel even more connected to her work.

I also think Dean successfully weaves the women's lives and inter
Pat Carroll
May 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
From the days when argument mattered, this is a thoughtful, thoroughly reported survey of ten public intellectuals connected by their chromosomes and the ability to write well. Michelle Dean does a little too much linking for me, but the links are there and make a decent organizing principle. While I was reading this, I also came upon a couple columns by NYT right-wing guy Ross Douthat that made me realize how little dispute we have over complexities, and how much public discourse relies on Simp ...more
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Michelle Dean is a Canadian journalist and critic. She currently lives and works in the United States of America.

Dean was honored in 2016 with the National Book Critics' Circle's Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, The New Republic, The New York Times Magazine, and Elle. Her first book, Sharp: The Women Who Made An Art of Having An Opinion,
“I have thought about their remarks, tried to put myself in their place, considered their point of view. I think they are full of shit. - Nora Ephron” 1 likes
“There have always been those who insist that full-on confession of every flaw and feeling is the only honest way to write, and then those, like Kael, who would argue that it reinforced terrible stereotypes about women and gave voice to their worst qualities as intelligent human beings.” 0 likes
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