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A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

3.68  ·  Rating details ·  182,273 ratings  ·  9,348 reviews
'When you read his extraordinary memoir you don't laugh, then cry, then laugh again; you somehow experience these emotions all at once.'

"Well, this was when Bill was sighing a lot. He had decided that after our parents died he just didn't want any more fighting between what was left of us. He was twenty-four, Beth was twenty-three, I was twenty-one, Toph was eight, and all
Paperback, 437 pages
Published February 13th 2001 by Vintage (first published February 17th 2000)
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William Because it is an amazing book that tells an incredible story in an inventive way.
Michael This question is three years old so I'm not sure it's relevant anymore, but if your judgement of literature is that it is 'clean reading without distr…moreThis question is three years old so I'm not sure it's relevant anymore, but if your judgement of literature is that it is 'clean reading without distracting profanity or morality' then you probably need to read more widely. And also just read more books period. Though not a flawless book and maybe one better suited to a younger reader as older readers will have less patience with its flaws, the novel nonetheless has as its heart a very affecting relationship, that of the (at the time young) author and his tween brother as they embark on a life alone, having in quick succession lost both parents. Most people who dismiss the book somehow seem to miss the centrality of that relationship. It is worth your time, but please look beyond your parochial sphere and see the larger world at work. A piece of literature can (and often should) be shaggy, it should range, it should affront, and yes, it should swear from time to time. Do we really need to be as precious as all that?(less)

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 ·  182,273 ratings  ·  9,348 reviews

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Mar 29, 2008 rated it did not like it
**Note: This review was written almost 10 years ago. I would gladly delete it, but it appears some people have engaged in fruitful back-and-forth in the comment thread. I let it stand for the sake of their discussion, but since every once in a while I wake up to an email informing me of how some stranger on the internet thinks I'm an asshole (and as I'm also a person who can't stand the heat and would gladly get out of the kitchen if I could), I'd like to add a few disclaimers.

This review was wr
Sep 17, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: top-eleven
look. it's cool to hate on dave eggers.

it's *so cool* to be post-dave-eggers, and talk about how you didn't really like this book all that much, and it's even cooler to totally hate this book. it's like a coolness interview question. "did you like his book?" "yeah, I really did." "well, we can't be friends with *you*..."

this is just like those hipsters who don't like justin timberlake. fuck you, hipsters. that new album is solid gold.

I loved this book. I loved it, and I still love it. I wish to
Feb 08, 2008 rated it it was ok
Shelves: memoir-biography
Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck fuck. I was reading this book and around page 237 (or was it 327? fuck), I figured it out- he's talking to ME. He wrote this book for me. Dave Eggers looked into the future and saw that I would want to read a self-referential, self-satisfying memoir. He knew that I would be trying to figure stuff, being in my twenties and all, and while not dealing with the enormity of losing both parents and having to rear a young sibling, I would have my own shit to work through. He. fucki ...more
Aug 07, 2007 rated it it was ok
I disliked so very much about this book. The grating self-awareness, the oh-I'm-so-clever stream of consciousness asides, the indescribably tedious discussion of his magazine work. But the heart of the book, the story of Eggers and his young brother trying to be each other's whole family after the death of their parents, is genuinely sad and funny all at once, a difficult feat to accomplish. I wish he'd stuck to telling that story instead of trying so hard to make me think he's a staggering geni ...more
Nov 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 21-ce, memoir, nonfiction, us
A very fine book, but tied closely with its period, so a bit dated. I suppose the publisher will be footnoting it before too long. I’m going to have to read that really long, really serious Péter Nádas’ novel afterward, for AHWOSG is far too hysterical. Excessive hysteria pushed past all reasonable thresholds of human tolerance into the realm of whistling past the graveyard. I think it’s the twentysomething prospect of near-continuous coitus that’s to blame, making the text at times almost a gid ...more
Jun 29, 2007 rated it it was ok
Recommended to Rob by: John
Shelves: 2012
I hated loved was totally frustrated by was sucked into couldn't stand couldn't put down dreaded picking up wanted to like was attacked by wanted to burn finished this book.

Alternative title: A Self-Indulgent Work of Festering Genius

The worst book I couldn't put down; the best book I've ever wanted to set on fire.

Updated: Found in my bedside reading journal:

- it's self-conscious & pretentious, but pretentious in the way that smart kids are when they're trying to be cool but are still riled up by
Jan 15, 2008 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: wannabe hipsters
as a huge douglas coupland fan, i thought i might enjoy 'a heartbreaking work...' i should've known better. i tried to read 'you shall know our velocity' last year and found it entirely unreadable. i gave up after 200 pages of nonsense. several friends raved about 'ahwoasg,' so i thought, 'ok, i'll give eggars another try.' again, i was horribly disappointed.

the pros: yes, it's funny at times and very *honest* (though can we take eggars at his word? never trust an autobiography). i laughed out
Charlotte May
Well, this was an uphill struggle.
Such dense writing, about nothing important - paragraphs and paragraphs of random crap, like throwing a frisbee, or whether or not he will sleep with a girl and then being unsure what actually occurred afterwards.
I’m baffled that Eggers managed to drag this out for just under 500 pages.
There is no feeling, I didn’t connect with any of the characters, they were so two-dimensional. Just a timeline of his life bringing up his brother after his parents died. Movi
Bryon Cahill
Mar 21, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Anyone
I had problems with Dave Eggers for a long time. Having never read a word he'd written, I immaturely thought I had every right to hate him. He was young, successful, and adored by critics. That was enough right there. When it first came out, I would see AHWOSG in the bookstore and grimace at it (more than once, I even gave it the evil eye). My loathing was out of sheer jealousy. I recognized it as such back then, but still carried on. It's hard to let go of things sometimes.

OK. Fast forward thre
Sep 06, 2007 rated it really liked it
Clearly, this is a polarizing book. All I'll add is that the first time I read it, sometime in the middle of college, I had all of the negative reactions I've read here. It was sometimes funny, and sad and beautiful and all that, but mostly it was an autobiography by an asshole who was full of himself and I just didn't see why I should care, why I should keep reading.

And then I read it again a few years later. And I don't really know what happened in between exactly. Maybe I became friends with
Aug 02, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: People who are nearsighted... I mean metaphorically speaking.
Dave, Dave, Dave, Dave. What can I say? I can sort of remember picking up this book in a bookstore somewhere and reading the first few pages… now, not the first few pages of the story, but I’m talking about the copyright page. Freaking Dave Eggers is writing his novel starting with the copyright page? Wild man, wild man!
So, I read it. I liked it. It was this nonstop stream of consciousness kind of thing, which I found a bit comforting, cause that’s how I think. I mean, of course that’s how I th
Before I picked up this book I had heard endless tales of how wonderfully smart and funny this book was, how terrific the writing was and how the originality would slap me in the face like a cool wind on a summer's day. They were wrong. I hated this book like The Cure hates happiness.

I understand writer's have their own style, and that is what, in and of itself, separates them from all the others. But, seriously, we learn paragraph breaks for a reason. It gives the mind's eye a break, a breathe
This book has not aged well.

I read it when it first came out, somewhere around 2000, and I remember loving its high-energy sentences and how Eggers shared his emotions about losing both his parents to cancer and taking guardianship of his youngest brother, Toph (short for Christopher). I was in my 20s back then, and I could relate to the author's angst about life, his career, his relationships, blah blah blah.

Fourteen years later, I picked it up again as a book club assignment. My reaction this
Matthew Quann
Feb 21, 2016 rated it really liked it
For the first half of this Dave Eggers book--which everyone has been telling me to read since the dawn of time-- I was absolutely in love with Eggers' writing. Eggers' unique voice coupled with his heartbreaking, raw, and personal familial tragedy made for a story that was both poignant and interesting to read. I really enjoyed his asides, and found myself smiling when a conversation between Eggers and his younger brother evolved into a metatextual examination of Eggers' entire venture.

But then
Eric C
Aug 08, 2007 rated it did not like it
I was sick of Eggers'
self-absorbed schtick after three pages of the preface. But, the cover read
"pulitzer prize finalist" (among other superlatives), so I forged on. I'd made
it to page 33 of the actual text (without laughing once) when I noticed Eggers'
picture on the back cover. He reminded me of some people I'd met when I was
working at a startup company during the early internet boom. They were so full
of themselves with their free-wheeling style, their stock options, and their
flat-front banana-
Jun 06, 2011 rated it liked it
About a boy who loses both parents & must then become a parent to his own sibling...

Sure, many elements must converge to make a wee autobiography one outstanding read. Here's the jist: Eggers is an almost-household name writer who abuses his witty (ha-ha-ha) title and confounds the reader with an (incredibly dragged-out) insistence upon his own life story. Bookmarked by the dual tragedy of losing parents to cancer (within weeks of one another) are a bunch of vanilla events making up the bulk of
MJ Nicholls
It's taken me two years to get around to reading this much-hyped modern classic. In that time, I have put up four shelves, had intercourse over twenty times, eaten nine scones, and met one Scottish celeb. His name will not be published here, as he was rude about my purple-brown shirt. Fool.

Dave Eggers is preoccupied with heart-rending human dramas of Promethean magnitude, as his follow-up books What is the What and Zeitoun attest: he is that long arterial cord thingie linking the heart with the
Joe Valdez
Jul 31, 2016 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoirs, abandoned
A Heartbreaking Work Of Staggering Genius, the 2000 memoir by Dave Eggers, was recommended to me by a college student I've gotten to know at McClain's Coffeehouse. I spend my weekends there writing and wasting time on social media while this guy is studying French or wasting time playing poker. We use each other as a sounding board when we're writing. We both love to read; he can't believe I've never read William Faulkner or Philip Roth. I can't believe he's never read Elmore Leonard or Stephen ...more
Jul 31, 2007 rated it really liked it
Plenty of clever people have written about A.H.W.O.S.G., but Eggers himself may have done it best with the preface, acknowledgements, and even the title of his book. It all portends a memoir that is sad, funny, smart, and honest. He shrewdly pre-empts criticism about his self-obsession by professing to be self-conscious about it – a kind of meta-awareness that’s somehow more appealing. It’s clear before the book begins that he’s got that Gen X hipster axe to wield for sarcastic, irreverent purpo ...more
Tom Quinn
Mar 28, 2021 rated it liked it
Heartbreaking? Check.
Staggering? At times.
Genius? Debatable.

3 stars. I liked it a lot more on a second reading, years after the first, as a man now older and—dare I say?—wiser (a little bit, at least). As books go, it's not, like, phenomenal literature or anything but it is entertaining in a few spots and emotive in a few more. Eggers has a distinct voice, a heavy hyperbolic Gen X self-aware and self-absorbed style, very much a love-it-or-leave-it deal:

We walk the halls and the playground, and w
Feb 04, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone
Recommended to Meredith by: Olga
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Apr 20, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: own, favorites, lulz, memoirs
The book isn't simple- it's complex, and powerful, beautiful, hilarious, and above all: is feels utterly sincere.

Obviously the title is hyperbolic.. but it's not completely ironic/innacurate either..

Eggers has a great little thing about Irony/the title being ironic/the book being ironic.. in the added section of the book "Mistakes we knew we were making". In which he's like,"you fuckers don't know what irony means; let me explain"*. It's all true. *This isn't an actual quote from him.

He uses pro
Richard Derus
Jul 10, 2012 rated it did not like it
Read in the Aughties. Found it *insufferable* and conceived a deep and abiding loathing for the dudebro who wrote this. I tried two other books by him, What Is the What (um, who the hell asked you, white guy? actual African writers tell it) and Zeitoun (liked it a lot, and of course it turns out 1) he took other peoples' work and 2) Zeitoun was no angel at all); and that was that.

So I saw someone on Goodreads' review, ordered up a Kindlesample to refresh my memory, and:

I did not enjoy this exer
Oct 14, 2008 added it
omg OMG! which one of you was it?!?!? which one of you snekay little emo kids managed to pull this off!?

you know, wilcan's level 400 creative writing class? last semester of my senior year of college? we had the classroom in Times Hall that didn't get air conditioning! i passed out in the middle of class right before spring break? that one time, when the health center prescribed me the wrong medication for my bronchitis!!!! don't you remember!?

well i do. don't think i didn't catch this. i've na
Sep 20, 2017 rated it did not like it
OK, I give up @40%. There are some nice ideas, few interesting scenes and fun dialog here and there but it's all buried in cum from all that verbal mastrubation. ...more
Nov 23, 2007 rated it did not like it
Shelves: fiction
anyone that employs the phrase "a bird the color of feces" in their writing should be, for evermore, prohibited from publishing anything. i once heard someone say that dave eggers is the most important writer of his generation, and, thus, lingeringly, i tasted said bird. his dedication to 826 is quite commendable, however. ...more
May 16, 2007 rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: non geniuses
Mr. Eggers has a genius for two things: finding and publishing some of the more exciting writers working today; turning "Weeee! Weeee! Look at me!! I am beautiful and so good to my little brother!!! Weeeee! Don't you want to touch me?" into 496 pages. ...more
Jun 23, 2008 rated it did not like it
I've been reading this book for about three months now and I just can't bring myself to finish it (and I only have 17 pages left). This is the first book I've read by Dave Eggers, and I've been told not to judge his other works based on this memoir. Memoirs can be tricky beasts after all.

In the beginning I really enjoyed this book. Eggers actually did have an interesting life and he tells his story in stream-of-consciousness (sp?), which I found to be really first. It was the fi
Jonathan Ashleigh
Oct 07, 2014 rated it it was ok
This did not do much for me. It was readable but I am very unsure of why it was so loved. I suppose young parenting is not something I want to know more about.
Feb 12, 2021 added it

Some great passages but I'm not entirely sure what this 'is'...the MTV Real World section feels like it could easily be cut. Very well done baggy memoir of a fraught period that's most interesting as a snapshot of post-grief freewheeling denial and terror and messy, upsetting, slightly deranged recalibration and least interesting as a commentary on a time and place.
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Dave Eggers is the author of ten books, including most recently Your Fathers, Where Are They? And the Prophets, Do They Live Forever?, The Circle and A Hologram for the King, which was a finalist for the 2012 National Book Award. He is the founder of McSweeney’s, an independent publishing company based in San Francisco that produces books, a quarterly journal of new writing (McSweeney’s Quarterly ...more

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“I like the dark part of the night, after midnight and before four-thirty, when it's hollow, when ceilings are harder and farther away. Then I can breathe, and can think while others are sleeping, in a way can stop time, can have it so – this has always been my dream – so that while everyone else is frozen, I can work busily about them, doing whatever it is that needs to be done, like the elves who make the shoes while children sleep.” 368 likes
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