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Timebends: A Life

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Telling his life story with humor and passion--displaying throughout the largeness of spirit that has made him one of the most admired writers this country has ever produced--Miller recalls his boyhood, his education, the formation of his political outlook, his career successes and failures, and the remarkable variety of people, both obscure and famous, in his life.

614 pages, Paperback

First published November 1, 1987

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About the author

Arthur Miller

231 books2,433 followers
Arthur Asher Miller was an American playwright and essayist. He was a prominent figure in American literature and cinema for over 61 years, writing a wide variety of plays, including celebrated plays such as The Crucible, A View from the Bridge, All My Sons, and Death of a Salesman, which are still studied and performed worldwide. Miller was often in the public eye, most famously for refusing to give evidence against others to the House Un-American Activities Committee, being the recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for Drama among other awards, and for marrying Marilyn Monroe. At the time of his death, Miller was considered one of the greatest American playwrights.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 55 reviews
Profile Image for Pauline  Butcher Bird.
169 reviews5 followers
June 25, 2015
The trouble with autobiographies is that only part of most people's lives is interesting. So it is here. I wanted to read about Marilyn Monroe but we get only small parts out of two chapters. Miller glosses over the breakup of his first marriage and the formation of his relationship with the most famous sex-goddess of the 20th century. You have to piece together in your own mind how and why she married a dry, not particularly attractive man, or indeed why he took the major step to marry her. Then also, I wanted to know how much sex played in her life. After all she represented the sexual dreams of most men at that time. I don't need details but some indication - she maybe have been indifferent to sex, or gloried in it. She clearly suffered sexual abuse through her climb up the Hollywood ladder, so how did this affect her? I can't believe that Miller, with all his insights into every other aspect of his and people's lives, was not curious about this himself.

His prose is often vague and rambling, eg: "Glamour is a youth's form of blindness that lets in light, incoherent color, but nothing defined."

If you want to learn about the world of theater in the Fifties and Sixties, or the political climate during that time, including the extensive fear of Communism and the McCarthy trials, then this book is for you.
Profile Image for Annie.
80 reviews1 follower
March 3, 2009
Arthur Miller has a unique perspective on the twentieth century, because, well, he is Arthur Miller. He took McCarthyism by the balls. He singlehandedly congealed a major part of the consciousness about the twentieth century American anti-hero through the image of Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman. Oh, and he married Marilyn Monroe.

Miller's grasp on prose is not like his flawlessly balanced plays, but it has a genius of its own. Sprawling, informative, non-linear, almost like an old man telling you like it was. If you're not a fan of his, you can skip over the endless sections of detailed descriptions of the writing of his plays, his interactions with Elia Kazan and Hollywood, but you would still gain prescient historical and personal insight from a truly original soul.
Profile Image for Elizabeth Periale.
Author 5 books5 followers
August 2, 2012

"In Timebends Miller writes about her poetically enough, but Marilyn, his conception of Marilyn, rarely comes across as a real person. She is still a muse to his words, almost thirty years after their break-up and her death. Perhaps that is all she really ever was to him."
3 reviews
October 30, 2016
A single word to describe this book might be "honest." Miller looks back over his life as celebrated playwright, New York leftist, serious artist looking for important material, but also married man looking for love and understanding, and tries to analyze why he made the decisions that he did, also why things turned out as they did despite his objections. We learn a lot that is intensely believable about Broadway, Hollywood, Marilyn Monroe, the climate of politics during and after World War II. It's like Thoughts on Everything by a thoughtful grandparent. A lot of memoirs by older Jewish writers have this quality of authority bolstered by experience -- one thinks of Saul Bellow and Ben Hecht. I recommend it as a read not for the subject matter but for the quality of the thought.
Profile Image for Gordon Blitz.
Author 2 books3 followers
March 22, 2018
Timebends by Arthur Miller is a long-winded autobiography that incoherently jumps back and forth. I struggled to get to the good stuff about his landmark plays Death of a Salesman, The Crucible, All my Sons, etc. The overwriting poetic language becomes tiresome after a hundred pages. I skipped over long passages that held little interest to me.
Profile Image for Mike Roberts.
Author 2 books1 follower
February 23, 2020
Over the last decade I’ve become a big fan of Arthur Miller’s plays, to the point that he’s probably my favourite playwright. I’ve also watched the movie that he wrote - The Misfits.

This was a fascinating memoir to me for various reasons. Firstly, Miller lived in Manhattan and Brooklyn (my adopted home) until his thirties and to read first hand experience of middle-class pre-depression Jewish Harlem on the north side of Central Park; through poor mid Brooklyn post-depression a couple of miles from where I live now; then Brooklyn Heights once he’s started hitting the big time, and more, was just eye opening. A special part was where he described living in affluent Brooklyn Heights just a few blocks from the Brooklyn waterfront that at the time was almost feudal in its nature. I run through these areas frequently and it’s going to be very different knowing some of the history of these areas now.

Second there’s the background of his works. There’s a great section where he travels to Italy and Sicily that ended up being some of the basis of A View From The Bridge. There’s a lot of background to The Misfits, much of it wrapped up in his marriage to Marilyn Monroe. I never quite realized how big a deal she was, even in the UK, and I suspect many folks read this book to read about her, rather than Miller. And of course there’s a good amount of context for The Crucible - an extraordinary play on the surface about the Salem Witch Trials that took place in the 1690s, but not far under the covers about McCarthyism - an almost Orwellian period of US history post World War 2.

And that leads on to the final reason that this book was so interesting to me. Miller lived through the depression, World War Two, and McCarthyism. He was unabashedly left wing in his politics. To read about American politics and social context in the early / mid twentieth century made me feel just slightly better about the times we’re currently living through. While the Trump administration and the re-invigorating of white nationalism in the US is terrible, I feel we might not have (yet) hit the low of the late 40s, and 50s. On the other hand being reminded of circle of social progress back to the politics of fear and protectionism, that we seem to be stuck in in the US, was fairly depressing.

Miller is an artist and a something of a philosopher, and some sections, especially from his childhood, were a little meandering for my taste.

But overall this was a great read.
Profile Image for Jason.
1,942 reviews7 followers
March 27, 2020
I have to say I was pretty mortified by how much I disliked this book. I was excited to read it because I knew nothing about Arthur Miller except of the fact that he wrote my favorite pay and was married to Marilyn Monroe. I figured an autobiography from such a great writer would be endlessly fascinating. Instead, I found this book plodding, and incredibly boring. I still no nothing about Arthur Miller! I bounces around with no discernible pattern, there is little to know information about the author, but several mini-biographies about the people he came in contact with-most of whom I know about because I've read their autobiographies or biographies. Very disappointing.
Profile Image for Timothy Dymond.
163 reviews8 followers
April 6, 2015
Arthur Miller is one of those writers whose massive output means you have read and seen more of his stuff than you think you have. E.g. I've seen productions of 'The Crucible', but I didn't realise that he wrote the first draft of what became 'On the Waterfront' (the final version was written by Bud Schulberg).

Miller has his artistic origins in the New York left-wing literati set that included Clifford Odets, Lillian Helman, Dashell Hammat and (for a little while) Elia Kazan. His relationship with Kazan is a key part of the major drama in this meandering memoir - Miller's dealings with the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) during the 'McCarthy era' (which, as Miller makes clear, involved far more than just Joe McCarthy himself).

Unlike Kazan, Miller refused to name names of people he knew were in, or involved in, the Communist Party in the 1930s. He was actually tried for contempt of Congress - although he was able to ultimately beat the charges by demonstrating the HUAC had displayed the bad faith. Kazan seems to have been convinced that he would never have a film career if he didn't 'name names'. He gives Kazan a generous character reference, however Miller seems to have been able to have a successful career despite refusing to co-operate with HUAC (Broadway may have been a better place to have a post-McCarthy career than Hollywood).

One of the ways that HUAC 'convicted' people of being Communists, even when they denied it, was to bring in an 'Expert' on Communism who assessed people's words and deeds for Communist inclinations. In his trial defence Miller turned the tables on this approach by calling as a expert witness one of these 'Experts' who had repudiated this entire approach. He was an ex-Conservative politician and military man who was in charge of an office in the Eisenhower administration that received information from the public about who was a Red. Looking at the sheer volume of nonsensical 'denunciations' that were just score settling, misunderstandings, or lies; not to mention the cases of mistaken identity (woe betide you looking for work in the 1950s if you just had the same name as a 'Red'); not to mention the ridiculous level of parsing of opinions to determine if they were Marxist, or socialist, or liberal ideas - the Expert honestly arrived at the view that the whole process was dangerous and discredited.

A lot of the interest in this book would be driven by Marilyn Monroe, to whom Miller was married in the 1950s and 1960s. Those parts are probably the more difficult sections as I can't help thinking Miller is really an unreliable narrator on this point. I think this book is best read as a series of interesting stories - which of course is what you should expect from a playwright.
Profile Image for Jennifer B..
1,279 reviews26 followers
December 25, 2018
It took me a long time to get through this, which wasn't a bad thing. What an interesting life Arthur Miller led, and not just because he happened to marry Marilyn Monroe. A true intellectual despite his humble roots, this man really knew everyone: actors, artists, musicians, directors, producers, photographers, politicians, veterans, and of course, other writers.

Miller doesn't just give you the story of his life, he gives you the story of the twentieth century. I felt I received quite the education: American theatre, television, cinema, and culture; European revolutions and dictatorships; The Great Depression; and two world wars, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.

Every other page I was pausing to either refresh my memory or to completely educate myself. Google and Wikipedia are my friends. That way I was able to come back and have a deeper understanding of what he was painstakingly trying to communicate.

In the end I'm happy to have spent months with this book. I felt a bit like I was listening to the grandfather I never had telling me stories of the way things used to be.
Profile Image for Kllrchrd.
14 reviews
April 9, 2012
I felt in the company of a 'big man' reading this, i am a slow reader, as slow as I talk and with Millers style of writing I had to re-read many sentences and paragraphs, in my meticulous craftsmans manner I wanted to leave nothing out.

It was a privelige to hear of decades past and all the problems that went with it. I originally bought this book twenty years ago but only got to page one hundred, now being older it holds me far more, what seemed a strange play such as 'Salesman' now seems very relevant. Also the film 'The Misfits' with Huston is an absolute 'must' and the film 'A View from the Bridge' Dir Sidney Lumet is outstanding.

For a Limey his writing can be less than easy, but listening to him on youtube makes him much easier to read. I finished the book yesterday, he lets you down easy at the end and just want to think about it now for a few days more. As several ppl have stated here its like having the grandfather you never had. I like his style and delivery, can get a bit tricky at times but then again you are in the company of a 'big man'.
156 reviews2 followers
July 10, 2019
Wow - turgid, verbose, circumlocutory memoir from the great playwright. At 600 pages a real heavy lift to finish. Author seemingly incapable of writing a simple declarative sentence. Frequently interjects "I think" or, even more annoyingly, "I suppose" into long sentences. Why? A good editor could easily have shortened this book by 50-75 pages.
I do not find fault, as others have, with the apparent lack of a chronological timeline. It's Miller's memoir and he can write it his way. Best parts were accounts of his childhood in Brooklyn, and the sometimes interesting characters he met, his relationship with other writers, actors, directors - Clifford Odets, Lillian Hellman, Elia Kazan, et al., and occasional backstory on his great works. He seems to generally use the chronology of his plays as a starting off point to go back in history.
Not so good - despite the length of this volume, almost nothing about his first wife, Mary Slattery (other than some condescending words about her family upon meeting them), or his children, and he doesn't mention what his adult children and his grandchildren are doing until the books last five pages. Despite some 30-40 pages about Marilyn Monroe and "The Misfits," this reader has no idea what caused that marriage to fail. I suspect lack of detail about first marriage due to fact that Mary Slattery still alive at the time of Miller's writing of this book, and author concerned about libel laws. I would imagine that it must have been a dramatic scene(s) when the first marriage broke up, but nothing from the great playwright.
Also, author petty at times - less than flattering account of his encounters with Odets and Norman Mailer, and. I suspect some jealously of the other writers' talents. But even this comes across as not very passionate.
As to his politics, he is an unabashed liberal, or leftist, as he self-characterizes himself. I do not for a minute believe his epiphany, at age 14 or so, while on his bicycle, watching a handball game against the wall of a local pharmacy, when an unnamed teenager/young adult comes up to his and begins preaching Marxism. I can't suspend by disbelief on that one. As for the Marxism, although Miller gives the air of being a deep-thinking intellectual, nothing about reading the "Manifesto" or any part of "Capital" or any source documents, like "Discourse on the Origins of Inequality," something a real intellectual would have done (Camus anyone?). Total lack of self-awareness to the fact that the leftist playwright has become wealthy writing his plays. Oddly stresses financial details of the (many) houses he purchased over time.
Author comes across as a cold, aloof individual.
Profile Image for Andy.
137 reviews
November 23, 2020
The art of theatre is something I am not familiar with as I have not even seen a play since my student years, and even then only because of cheap standby tickets. So when Arthur Miller's biography was recommended by a friend, I was sceptical that I would find anything of interest and reluctantly made a start (8 months ago!). As it turns out, this was quite an informative, educational and enjoyable read, so much so that I found myself rationing the chapters to make it last longer.

Miller does not fixate on himself but uses his life and experience to describe the times and events that he lived through. From the impressions of WWI as a child in New York, the depression era, the hopes of communism, WWII, McCarthyism in the 50s, and then tailing off into Vietnam and beyond. He explains how his major works were influcenced by themes and ideas taken from these events (even his marriage to Marilyn Monroe fueled his creativity) and he had that ability to put his current circumstances into historical context as he lived through them. A well written book, this will keep you fascinated and entertained through multiple readings.
Profile Image for Andreea.
91 reviews2 followers
December 24, 2020
Having scattered my reading across many months, I've finally come to a close!

Arthur Miller stood for freedom of speech and was always vocal about the oppression going on in the world. Choosing the hard way, he fought both the American government and leaders of other countries in an attempt to let writers be writers and humans be humans, independently of political agendas.

There are many times the "such were the times" expression is used by Miller to describe the actions taken against him in a past society that would, at the time of writing, be considered barbaric e.g. being denied passport.
I cannot help but wonder if in two or three decades from now, we will look back to this crazy 2020 period and say "such were the times".

There are (motivational) quotes all over the book, the one that stroke me the most being:
"Is this, I wondered, why writing exists—as a proof against oblivion? And not just for the writer himself but also for all the others who swim in the depths where the sun of the culture never penetrates?"
1,414 reviews13 followers
October 26, 2019
I read this in high school.

The only thing I knew about Arthur Miller at the time was the he was the author of "The Crucible" and "Death of Salesman".

The part I remember the most was his description of writing "Death of A Salesman". His description was rather vivid.

But, like many books I read in high school, I now realize that I probably didn't understand 90% of the it because I was simply too young.

After all, he was 70 years old when this was published and he spends a lot of time describing the America of the 20s, 30s and 40s.

As an 18 year old non-American I didn't have the historical or psychological context to appreciate what he was trying to say.

Might be time for a reread!
Profile Image for Liz Smith .
81 reviews
November 20, 2020
I cannot praise this memoir highly enough for its breadth of an entire lifetime and its excellent writing and insights into 20th century American life and his own personal life. Arthur Miller was one of our best playwrights (Death of a Salesmen, All My Sons, A View From the Bridge, The Crucible), but he was celebrated for having stood up to the HUAC in 1956 and for marrying the impossible-to-live with Marilyn Monroe. I have laughed out loud as well as been in awe of Arthur Miller's humor and ironic insights and his brilliant style throughout this 600-page tome. If you are a fan of 20th century history and popular culture, you may enjoy this as much as I did.
47 reviews1 follower
June 11, 2021
This had some bits that stuck in my head for years afterwards. Particularly him writing the Crucible in teh wake of the McCarthy witch trials and talks about the thought behind it. The pressures of conformty and how orthodoxy works within small communities I think. need to reread it,
Has been possibly 30 years.

But really well written and it does show the thought behind his work. & how things evolved.
Great memoir and quite revelatory both about himself and society.
5 reviews2 followers
March 22, 2018
Timebends by Arthur Miller is a long-winded autobiography that incoherently jumps back and forth. I struggled to get to the good stuff about his landmark plays Death of a Salesman, The Crucible, All my Sons, etc. The overwriting poetic language becomes tiresome after a hundred pages. I skipped over long passages that held little interest to me.
1,247 reviews4 followers
September 30, 2019
Time bends. Yes it does. Warps, weaves, waves, wriggles. A very interesting book. Miller appears to be the suave, moderate, calm thinker throughout. It will be interesting to consider other perspectives. In particular, he seems to leave wives behind like many of us overtake slow-moving traffic. The more recent years are more skeletal than the distant past. All that aside, I did enjoy the book.
Profile Image for Matthew.
45 reviews1 follower
December 2, 2020
This took me a while to read. It was one of those read for a few days, put down for a month or two, pick back up.

Regardless, Arthur Miller writes some very personal anecdotes recalling his life. He’s my favorite playwright and now having understood a little more about his background, I understand his plays on a more personal level.
Profile Image for Sunny.
Author 8 books7 followers
June 15, 2019
I enjoyed reading about this interesting man, who wrote The Crucible and Death of a Salesman. His insight into himself and others around him was entertaining. And I enjoyed seeing pieces of history from his point of view. It was worth my time.
19 reviews3 followers
August 4, 2019
Excellent book and interesting look at the world and politics of time Arthur Miller lived. Lots of great observations of the long-term effects of the black-listing of the 50's and the Vietnam war after that.
Profile Image for Rachael Johnson.
34 reviews
February 23, 2021
A magnificent memoir by one of America's greatest writers. Miller made an immeasurable contribution to 20th century theatre as well as to the fight for writers' rights....and what a fascinating life he led.
Profile Image for Karen Bix.
1 review11 followers
April 16, 2021
I don't like writers' autobiographies but this is an exception. It is riveting and profound - I return to it every few years just to revisit this kind, brilliant man's sensibility. I have grown from this book.
2 reviews
May 17, 2019
An interesting insight into a turbulent era, with no unwanted details of his sexual relationship with Monroe. Makes me want to be a playwright!
9 reviews1 follower
January 1, 2023
Such a wonderful, involving memoir. Its final sentence immediately became a sort of motto for me. Its last words: “… and even the trees.”
302 reviews
January 23, 2022
Much like Miller's writings, Timebends is long, verbose, and ultimately boring. Miller was a hard working, intelligent man, who didn't know his limitations. He had a certain amount of talent and got famous through political and personal connections. Certainly his leftwing communist friends always gave him a boost. Poor Marilyn, imagine listening to this Preacher/rabbi drone on and on at the breakfast table.
Profile Image for Tom Schulte.
2,890 reviews56 followers
May 12, 2017
While this was published in 1989, it really ends in the late 60s with Miller's involvement with PEN and draws a curtain over his family life in Connecticut with photographer Inge Morath, who he married in February 1962. The meat of this autobiography is professional and artistic development from U of M and NYC dock workers before the plays: Death of a Salesman, The Crucible foreshadowing his haunting by HUAC and the growth of A View from one-act to full, successful play. Of course, much is given over to the marriage to Marilyn Monroe and The Misfits where Miller felt she was lethally overpowered by her insecurity and the complications of Paula Strasberg manipulating involvement.

A small part of this story quite stuck me. In 1955, Miller was stuck with the influx of narcotics into New York City neighborhoods, rather recalling Manchild in the Promised Land that I recently read. Anyway, he felt this was "symptomatic of a wider but impossible-to-define disorientation that far transcended the gangs." One evening at dinner with sociologist Richard Cloward of the Columbia University School of Social Work and James McCarthy both of Mobilization for Youth (MFY), "the question arose as to how this generation of youth differed from our own of the Thirties." The hopeful, progressive, leftist Miller hoped for a Thirties-style approach of a community of people caught in a common problem and dealing with it by mutual action and responsibility:

"If common action of this kind is out, how are people going to visualize their evolution?" I asked Cloward in particular, since he was more the theoretician than McCarthy or I.

"The question is going to be lifestyle," he replied.

I had never heard the expression before. "What's that mean?"

"There will be competing styles of life, symbolic and essentially meaningless differences in clothing, speech patterns, tastes in food, cars, and so forth. The class struggle is over for now, and maybe even the conception of rank-and-file organizing. People are less and less interested in common action, which even now is getting to seem strange and kind of pointless. Identification will be more and more in terms of style—the self-image will be politically neutralized that way. It's going to be style-conscious, not class-conscious."

That seems to me remarkably prescient for describing the society we live in, now. Reminds me of "The 'revolution' of the future will not be driven by politics, but by aesthetics." This being a prediction made by J.G. Ballard.
Profile Image for Ali.
Author 15 books617 followers
May 28, 2007
Timesbend, a life
A beautiful autobiography as if a man is standing in front of the world, but talking to himself...
بیوگرافی میللر به قلم خودش، کتابی ست ارزشمند، که جای ترجمه ی آن در زبان فارسی خالی ست. اصولن جای "حدیث نفس" و شرح احوال، این گونه صادقانه و در عین حال شجاعانه، در ادبیات ما خالی ست. فرهنگ تعارف و تقیه و مجامله و پرده پوشی، اجازه نمی دهد کسی این چنین که میللر، با زندگی و گذشته ی خود صریح و بی غش روبرو شود. میللر با شرح زندگی خود، تاریخ چند دهه از وقایع کشورش را وصف می کند، به ویژه دو دهه ی چهل و پنجاه، و مک کارتیسم که دامن میللر و دوستانش و بسیاری دیگر را گرفت. از نقطه ضعف هایش با همان اعتماد به نفس و صراحت می گوید، که از نقطه قوت هایش. میللر از انگشت شمار افرادی بود که در "کمیته تحقیق" مک کارتی حاضر نشد، و دوستانش را لو نداد. در حالی که نام آورانی بسیار، از جمله "الیا کازان"، "کلیفورد اودتس" و... تن به این حقارت دادند. این هم یکی از دلایلی ست که میللر برای دورانی دراز، مورد احترام مردم و جامعه و سیاستمداران آمریکایی بود. او هرگز به مصلحت روز، از ارزش های خود عدول نکرد. کتاب، حدیث نفس کسی ست که از گفتن اشتباهات و نارسایی های زندگی اش ابایی ندارد، انگار که پیش روی جهان، با خود و در خلوت خویش سخن گفته باشد. تنها یک ایرانی می شناسم که با گذشته ی خود این چنین صریح و بی ریا روبرو شده؛ شاهرخ مسکوب در دو جلد "روزها در راه"!
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