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  • Published: 2 January 2014
  • ISBN: 9781448189779
  • Imprint: Vintage Digital
  • Format: EBook
  • Pages: 368

Roth Unbound

A critical evaluation of Philip Roth - the first of its kind - that takes on the man, the myth, and the work

Philip Roth - one of the most renowned writers of his generation - hardly needs introduction. From his debut, Goodbye, Columbus, which won the National Book Award, to his Pulitzer Prize-winning American Pastoral, to his eternally inventive later works such as Exit Ghost and Nemesis, Roth has produced some of the greatest literature of the past hundred years. And yet there has been no major critical work about him, until now.

Here, at last, is the story of Roth's creative life. Claudia Roth Pierpont tells an engaging story even as she delves into the many complexities of Roth's work and the controversies it has raised. This is not a biography - though it contains many biographical details - but something more rewarding: an attempt to understand a great writer through his art.

Pierpont, who has known Roth for several years, peppers her gracefully written and carefully researched account with conversational details, providing insights and anecdotes previously accessible only to a very few, touching on Roth's family, his inspirations, his critics, the full range of his fiction, and his literary friendships with such figures as Saul Bellow and John Updike.

Roth Unbound is a major achievement, a fascinating and highly readable work that will set the standard for Roth scholarship for years to come.

  • Published: 2 January 2014
  • ISBN: 9781448189779
  • Imprint: Vintage Digital
  • Format: EBook
  • Pages: 368

About the author

Claudia Roth Pierpont

Claudia Roth Pierpont is a staff writer for the New Yorker, where she has written about the arts for more than twenty years. The subjects of her articles have ranged from James Baldwin to Katharine Hepburn, from Machiavelli to Mae West. A collection of Pierpont’s essays on women writers, Passionate Minds: Women Rewriting the World, was published in 2000 and was nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award. Pierpont has been the recipient of a Whiting Writers’ Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a fellowship at the Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers of the New York Public Library. She has a PhD in Italian Renaissance art history from New York University. She lives in New York City.

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Praise for Roth Unbound

Roth Unbound has two particularly strong selling points. It is the first full-length study to be published since Roth's announcement that Nemesis would be his final novel. It is therefore the first to cover what currently looks to be his entire oeuvre... Secondly, Roth has made himself available as a commentator on - if not wholly a collaborator with - Pierpont's project, with the result that her account of his life and works is supplemented with marginal illuminations from her subject himself.

Bharat Tandon, Literary Review

A celebration. an illuminating companion to Roth's work.


The first study of the complete oeuvre... Roth collaborated with [Pierpont], answering questions, contributing asides as she writes. The effect is surreal. Ten pages of Pierpont's sparky prose can go by without interruption. Then she'll say, "Speaking today about this encounter, Roth remarks..." as if the great man has been sitting by her side all the time, peering to see the sentences unfold, his breath in her ear.

John Walsh, Sunday Times

[Pierpont] binds the books to the man not by mining them for nuggets of autobiographical information but by talking to Roth himself about what he put into them, by which she doesn't mean the facts, but the territory of imagination and self that creates fiction... What Pierpont has achieved is to defeat speculation. Whatever we think we know, turns out to be wrong.

Linda Grant, Independent

Pierpont knows her (somewhat inaccessible) subject and has punctuated her narrative with conversational snippets. A must for fans.

Rachel Cooke, Observer

[Pierpont's] appraisal is the first of its kind to defend Roth in any depth... As an old-fashioned critical biography, Roth Unbound has much new to say about the novelist's life and work.

Ian Thomson, Financial Times

A lucid, tender, illuminating study, beautifully poised between intimacy and detachment.

Caroline Moore, Spectator

Sympathetic, astute and observant... This is not a conventional biography...it is a 300-plus page profile, drawing on what is palpably a mutually respectful friendship.

Alan Taylor, Herald

The closest thing yet to a biography of the US' greatest living writer. After years of interviews, the author has as much to say about Roth's life (he dated Jackie Kennedy) as his extraordinary body of work.

Olivia Cole

In its sense of emotion recollected in tranquillity it captures the seductive humanity of Roth the writer and man, and not far from the surface, still just enough of what his whoring hero Mickey Sabbath called "preposterone", that obscenely generative spark that has brought his words to such vivid life.

Tim Adams, Guardian

[Pierpont's] book manages the immensely difficult feat of remaining both warm-hearted and critically balanced. The result is a useful key to Roth's work and a sequence of incidental portraits that...one wouldn't swap for anything.

Tim Martin, Daily Telegraph

Most rewarding.

David Sexton, Evening Standard

For the first time, New Yorker literary critic Claudia Roth Pierpont brings us the story of Roth's creative life... Roth Unbound is filled with insights gleaned from Pierpont's years of conversations and interviews with the author.

Jewish Chronicle

Where Pierpont's strength comes to the fore is in making the more familiar elements of the story come to life... What could easily have been a dry academic text is as compelling as a thriller... Like all of the best autobiographical works, it serves to refresh your enthusiasm for a great writer (and also distract once more from the apparent truth of the fact that there really will be no more new Philip Roth books).


[A] shrewd critical biography

Leo Robson, New Statesman

Lively and clever. A critical biography of the old school, though one invaluably topped up with reported comments and judgments from the Philip Roth of today.

Martin Amis, Scotsman

A very fine book... [Pierpont] manages to combine an almost Leavis-like talent for close reading with a very un-Leavis-like ability to locate works in the wider world of history and culture.

Spiked Online

Elegantly written and invariably perceptive.

Jonathan O'Brien, Sunday Business Post

Fascinating in its own right, Roth Unbound is valuable in showing us that the work and the man behind them speak with the same voice.

Neil Stewart, Civilian

[A] tender, detailed book.

Adam Thirlwell, Times Literary Supplement


Justine Carbery, Sunday Independent

A superb study of the novelist Philip Roth by a sharp biographer

William Leith, Evening Standard

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