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Herzog [Mass Market Paperback]

Saul Bellow , A. S. Byatt
3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Oct. 9 1996 Penguin Great Books of the 20th Century
This portrait of a modern-day hero is the story of Moses Herzog, a great sufferer, joker, moaner and charmer. Although his life has disintegrated around him, Herzog sees himself as a survivor, both of his private disasters and those of the age.

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A novel complex, compelling, absurd and realistic, Herzog became a classic almost as soon as it was published in 1964. In it Saul Bellow tells the tale of Moses E. Herzog, a tragically confused intellectual who suffers from the breakup of his second marriage, the general failure of his life and the specter of growing up Jewish in the middle part of the 20th century. He responds to his personal crisis by sending out a series of letters to all kinds of people. The letters in total constitute a thoughtful examination of his own life and that which has occurred around him. What emerges is not always pretty, but serves as gritty foundation for this absorbing novel. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

"A feast of language, situations, characters, ironies, and a controlled moral intelligence . . . Bellow’s rapport with his central character seems to me novel writing in the grand style of a Tolstoy—subjective, complete, heroic." —Chicago Tribune



"Herzog has the range, depth, intensity, verbal brilliance, and imaginative fullness—the mind and heart—which we may expect only of a novel that is unmistakably destined to last." —Newsweek 



"A masterpiece" —The New York Times Book Review

--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
IF I am out of my mind, it's all right with me, thought Moses Herzog. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Excerpt | Back Cover
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Most helpful customer reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Herzog May 20 2004
Format:Paperback
Moses E Herzog is going mad. He's aware of this, doesn't seem to bother him too much, though he can sense that it worries his friends and families. He begins to write letters, first to people he knows, then to celebrities, dead philosophers, himself; letters he never intends on sending but that act as a therapeutic activity for his troubled mind. By the end of the novel, we know Herzog, understand him, sympathise with him, even love him.
His second wife Madeleine recently ran away with his best friend, taking their young child with her. Herzog is filled with hatred towards her, but, strangely, it is an oddly amiable hatred. He recognises her good qualities, wishes her well in life, and generally doesn't want to ever see her again no matter what. The breakup with her is certainly the pivotal point for his madness, most of the events and thoughts in the novel surround her or the marriage.
Through his letters, Herzog explores his past and previous relationships. A letter to an old school friend will trigger memories of his failed crook of a father, a letter to a favoured philosopher will trigger memories of sleeping late with Madeleine and making love. We are rocketed back and forth, from Europe to America, childhood to adulthood with ease and skill, it never jars, but flows naturally.
Herzog is a very complicated character. He is aware of his own weaknesses, but only some he tries to fix. Others he is comfortable with, safe in the knowledge of what they are. He is a man who, while lacking confidence in some areas, has supreme confidence in who he is as a person. He does come off as arrogant sometimes, but he is aware of it, and to an extent enjoys the mild prestige of being the wise, in-print professor.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A satisfying American masterpiece April 17 2004
Format:Paperback
From the opening line, "If I'm out of my mind, it's all right with me," the reader becomes ensnared by Moses Herzog's churning mind, the mind of a man who sits on the border of of a new period in his life. He sways on the precipice, constantly looking backwards in order to make his next step forward. He worries if he is crazy--and so will the reader, as he or she picks through pages of unsent letters that Herzog composes on a whim. Addressed to people ranging from his ex-wives to God, the letters span various topics, and in doing so, they give the reader an amazing insight into Herzog's situation.

Bellow remains a masterful storyteller, though if you're looking for an action-filled novel, this isn't the one for you. His descriptions are impeccable, and I don't know of any modern novelists who can depict characters in such a masterly fashion. As you read, the images flow into your mind seamlessly; there are very few times that you have to stop reading in order to compose a mental image of what is depicted. Despite Herzog's academic rants, Bellow manages to create a character so familiar in Americana: constantly moving, constantly disappointed, and constantly searching for his or her next step. Bellow's novels are among the most satisfying reads; while difficult, they leave you with the feeling that you have eaten a large yet nonfilling meal, and while your stomach acknowledges that you've eaten a lot, you're still hungry for more.
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5.0 out of 5 stars contemporary, like moby dick Nov. 30 2003
Format:Paperback
The funny thing about Herzog is that it's no longer contemporary fiction. In terms of language, operating philosophies, and identifiable character types, it's as far behind us as Moby Dick. That's part of the charm of reading Herzog-the discovery that 50 years ago is indeed a half century away. But, like Moby Dick, age doesn't make any difference to the power of Moses Herzog's story, the truths it depicts, or the awe Bellow can sometimes inspire. Herzog is a philosophical novel about a failed academic philosopher who can't help but search for the truth. Whether in love affairs, memories of his Jewish childhood, or the letters he obsessively writes, M. Herzog flings himself against hypocricy, alienation, and boredom. He never wins, but he never gives up, and somehow or another comes to accept his own soul. "The dream of man's heart, however much we may distrust or resent it, is that life may complete itself in significant pattern." Bellow creates that soul from his own, through long and brilliant analytical passages that turn philosophical propositions into intricate, heart-stopping interior monologues. These are interspersed with suggestive aphorisms ("God's veil over things makes them all riddles.") The real secret of Bellow's novel is the emotional pitch of spiritual imperitive and secular compromise so perfeclty rendered in his prose. Half a century later it still resonates.
war on typos: p.302, line 9: "hinding behind the tree trunk" instead of hiding.
p. 227, line 16: "the sinstrument of the soul" instead of instrument.
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3.0 out of 5 stars A challenging read May 27 2003
By Veejer
Format:Paperback
This novel would certainly not qualify as a light read. It requires a quiet setting, no distractions, and your close attention. As is often the case with what I would call "intellectual fiction", the plot is not all that complicated. Moses Herzog, twice divorced, is coming to grips with the dissolution of his second marriage, wherein his wife has taken up with his best friend.
What is complicated is Saul Bellow's trip deep into the psyche of his protagonist. Herzog is on the edge of a mental breakdown, and as one way of working through things he write notes and letters to colleagues, friends, celebrities, etc. Sometimes the notes are written out, and sometimes just done mentally; there is no intent to send them. These notes and letters (although admittedly central to the story and to Herzog's character) also serve as a showcase for Bellow's own intellectual acuity, a notion I could never quite put aside. The notion that Bellow was, to put it plainly, "showing off". All and all, though, this really is a challenging read and one that will give you a good idea of Bellow's style.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars humane, witty, and a painfully funny plunder of intellect
Herzog is one of those books that works as fiction due to its absorbency of the fallibility of the human as well as its intellectual dynamism and humanity. Read more
Published on Jan. 26 2003 by Nicholas Cannariato
4.0 out of 5 stars Feel the potato love.
"Herzog" is the story of a man with a wide perspective of world history contemplating the absurdities of the twentieth century, not the least of which is his own life. Read more
Published on July 16 2002 by A.J.
5.0 out of 5 stars A comic masterpiece
I was prompted to write this because most of the reviewers published here miss the plain fact that Herzog is extremely funny. Herzog writes letters. Read more
Published on Feb. 11 2002 by Mark B. Friedman
4.0 out of 5 stars Good, but not great
Herzog is a sustained character study of an engaging, thoughtful man in the midst of a personal crisis. Read more
Published on Jan. 17 2002 by "mdsfnelson"
4.0 out of 5 stars Amazingly meticulous dissection of real life
This wasn't what I'd call a lot of fun to read. But it was worth it!
I am in awe of Bellow's ability to gather together the tiny impressions, thoughts, and actions that... Read more
Published on Dec 25 2001
2.0 out of 5 stars Cannot touch Augie March
I agree with the negative reviews of this book. Herzog never becomes a fully realized character and it's impossible to care about him or, ultimately, this novel. Read more
Published on Nov. 15 2001
5.0 out of 5 stars Thoroughly enjoyable
As is obvious from other reviews, this book is not for everyone. I found Herzog to be at once both both a lovable and despicable, comedic and tragic character; in other words,... Read more
Published on July 16 2001 by G. Loflin
4.0 out of 5 stars Saul Bellow's "Herzog"
This was the first novel by Saul Bellow I’ve read. Overall, I thought he had a wonderful writing style, particularly in the smaller details. Read more
Published on July 4 2001 by gwalsh
3.0 out of 5 stars Stalemate at transcending suffering through intellectualism
Herzog is a story of modern man's strugge to withstand fate. He craves for explanations, reasons, tries to retro-fit justice in his world disfigured by failure and tragedies. Read more
Published on June 6 2001 by Sayan Mitra
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