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5.0 out of 5 stars "Ignatius Rising" Is a Marvel of Theology and Geometry!
"A green hunting cap squeezed the top of the fleshy balloon of a head."
"Taking the pigtail in one of his paws, he pressed it warmly to his wet moustache."
Between those sentences lies "A Confederacy of Dunces," the masterpiece of John Kennedy Toole, a mystery of which for me has always been how any mere human could have come up...
Published on June 23 2001 by Bruce Nelson

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3.0 out of 5 stars Informative but undistinguished
The person who said "great subject, poor execution" pretty much nailed it. I enjoyed finally learning in detail about the background of Toole and the circumstances under which the novel was written, but this is basically a dry assemblage of facts with no real sense of Toole as a person or an artist. The correspondence between Toole and Gottlieb also says nothing...
Published on May 23 2004


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3.0 out of 5 stars Informative but undistinguished, May 23 2004
By A Customer
This review is from: Ignatius Rising: The Life of John Kennedy Toole (Hardcover)
The person who said "great subject, poor execution" pretty much nailed it. I enjoyed finally learning in detail about the background of Toole and the circumstances under which the novel was written, but this is basically a dry assemblage of facts with no real sense of Toole as a person or an artist. The correspondence between Toole and Gottlieb also says nothing enlightening about why Simon and Schuster wouldn't publish Confederacy and the authors don't even attempt a hypothesis beyond "they didn't like the Myrna Minkoff character very much". My own feeling has always been that Toole was ahead of his time. His brand of satire was far too dark and biting for the 1960s, and I think if the book had been published then there would have been an extremely negative public reaction to it - which might have been even worse for Toole than not being published at all. Either way, given the struggles he was having with depression and alcoholism it's unlikely he would have survived long enough for his true audience to emerge at the end of the following decade.
Note to the guy who thinks Thelma was the "ghostwriter" of Confederacy because her letter-writing style is so much like Ignatius Reilly's - you're overlooking the obvious. Thelma wrote letters to her son the entire time he was in Puerto Rico working on the first draft of the novel. Where do you think he got it from? Thelma may have acted as a sort of twisted Muse to Toole, but I highly doubt she was capable of conceiving of such a masterpiece of comic writing, much less committing it to paper. I suppose we should be grateful towards her for finally getting it into print, even if she was motivated by her own ego as much as anything else.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Informative, Dec 28 2001
This review is from: Ignatius Rising: The Life of John Kennedy Toole (Hardcover)
I finished Ignatius Rising very quickly, maybe because of my great interest in the book A Confederacy of Dunces. There is certainly a wealth of information here for the Dunces fan. I must say right off that Gottlieb ,the N Y editor, seemed to want the book to be perfect or maybe was just making excuses because something in the book offended him. I didn't feel he was really trying to help Toole, more like just stringing him along. The authors here play down that Gottlieb might have been offended with something in the book and therefore didn't give it it's due consideration. I still don't buy that, after all Gottlieb read the m.s. so he must have realized that Dunces was a masterpiece. I think editors having so much power over an artist's work can be a little intoxicating and blinding, at least this may have prooved true for the editor in question here. I don't really know of course and there are still unanswered questions in this regard upon completing this informative work. There are facts here I never knew, like there being an earlier version of Dunces with Ignatius being called something else. Towards the end of the book the tragic visitation of Toole's depression makes for tough reading. The authors deserve a lot of credit for digging out this much info on Dunces and Toole. I just can't say after reading this tragic story that I walk away from this book with an all together good feeling.
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3.0 out of 5 stars A noble failure, much like the novel, Sept. 19 2001
By A Customer
This review is from: Ignatius Rising: The Life of John Kennedy Toole (Hardcover)
A quick perusal of "Ignatius Rising" reveals why it has taken so long to produce a even the thinnest of biographies on the man behind "Confederacy of Dunces." With the exception of the story behind how the novel got published (which only occupies the book's last pages), there's nothing at all remarkable about Mr. Toole's sad, mundane life. The authors try valiantly to dig up research and credible eye witnesses to shed some light on the mysterious Mr. Toole, but they are not entirely successfully. How else can you explain why we are forced to read--in their entirety--so many of Mr. Toole's redundant letters home from the Army?
The correspondence between Gottlieb and Toole, however, is worth the price of the book, and that's why I recommend it to friends. Mr. Gottlieb has the distinction of being the only person in publishing who was in a position to evaluate Mr. Toole's manuscript based on its merits. His sensitive yet honest appraisal of the book is, in my humble opinion, right on. "Dunces," in its published form, is a funny but highly flawed novel, certainly not worthy of the lavish praise and prizes that were bestowed upon it by those intrigued by the book's tragic circumstances.
I trust that even if other readers don't agree with Mr. Gottlieb, they'll at least see him in the light of truth rather than as the cariacture created by Mr. Toole's demented mother.
The authors are to be congratulated for doing their best with very little material. I finished the book with a better understanding New Orleans society. Alas, I wish I also had a better understanding of Mr. Toole.
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5.0 out of 5 stars "Ignatius Rising" Is a Marvel of Theology and Geometry!, June 23 2001
This review is from: Ignatius Rising: The Life of John Kennedy Toole (Hardcover)
"A green hunting cap squeezed the top of the fleshy balloon of a head."
"Taking the pigtail in one of his paws, he pressed it warmly to his wet moustache."
Between those sentences lies "A Confederacy of Dunces," the masterpiece of John Kennedy Toole, a mystery of which for me has always been how any mere human could have come up with that set of fabulous characters, that amazingly original dialogue, those brilliantly off-beat and hysterically funny situations.
It's pretty clear now, with Nevils and Hardy's terrific biography of John Kennedy Toole, "Ignatius Rising," that we'll have to settle for as much "how" as they've been able to come up with, for this book is a masterwork of plumbing. While there is in the biography lots and lots about all other aspects of his interesting life, the genesis of his writing gift (I agree with Dan Acker below) is securely hidden. But I'm not sure we should want to know how Toole was able to materialize, for instance, combinations such as the following:
"Envy would gnaw at Myrna's musky vitals." Or "Ignatius emitted a little Paradise gas."
Or, on a banner, "Crusade for Moorish Dignity."
To choose just one of the many things "Ignatius Rising" IS able to uniquely provide regarding Toole and his life, Nevils and Hardy's discussion of the Simon and Schuster episodes, as particular and unusual as they were, has provided clues, at least, as to how getting a book published works. I had no idea that any publisher, let alone one of Robert Gottlieb's stature, even then, would take the time he did to encourage a new writer not yet signed to a contract. His letters are amazing examples of patience, encouragement, warmth, intelligence, and, most important, connectedness. No wonder he is one of the world's premier editors!
It's not necessary to have read "Confederacy of Dunces" to love this biography, but if you buy and read "Ignatius Rising" first, you will for sure be back at the bookstore in a flash to confirm for yourself what the fuss has been about for more than twenty years.
Congratulations to Rene Pol Nevils and Deborah George Hardy! I thought we would never see a book like this; that John Kennedy Toole would be hidden forever.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A sadly compelling book., June 19 2001
By 
Anthony Akey (Summit, New Jersey) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Ignatius Rising: The Life of John Kennedy Toole (Hardcover)
If you're reading this review you obviously have a love affair with Confederacy, the single greatest novel to grace the shelves of book stores throughout the world. You also have a desire to learn more about John Kennedy Toole. You will learn a great deal about the beloved creator of Ignatius, but it isn't all pleasant. Thelma was a horror show, and John's demise can hardly be directly linked to the failure of the book to be published. He was an alcoholic in the throes of a deep depression. A tortured soul who likely would have done himself in one way or another.
The book does a great deal to shed light on the Gotlieb connection to the book and Toole. I found Robert Gotlieb not guilty as charged by the whacky Thelma Toole. In fact, Gotlieb comes off as a caring and kind editor. It is a great shame Toole couldn't/wouldn't work on revisions as suggested by Gotlieb. It may have helped him.
Lastly, the authors did a good job. It will hopefully open the door for future scholarship on Toole. There are still many questions to be answered, but Rene and Deborah deserve our thanks (certainly mine, thank you ladies) for the first book to give us light into the life of this wonderful yet tragic soul.
To all of the battered souls who had to endure Thelma to bring this book to light, my heartfelt thanks to you (I hope you actually read this to get the praise) for getting this masterpiece published.
Peace and love to all who endure the people who just don't get the meaning of Confederacy.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Heart of Reilly, June 3 2001
This review is from: Ignatius Rising: The Life of John Kennedy Toole (Hardcover)
I still remember the first time I read "Confederacy of Dunces" lying on the bed in my college dorm room, kicking my feet laughing. I have returned to it many times and still consider it the funniest book ever.
So when I saw the biography of J.K. Toole, the author and suicide, in my local bookstore I had to buy it. I did not anticipate, though, being so swept up. The authors do an outstanding job compiling the minute details of Toole's too-short life, which could not have been easy since he was unknown and until well after his death. I was surprised how interested I could be in his grade school years-- although that is in large part owed to my fascination with Toole going in.
The key mystery to me has always been about Toole's relationship with Robert Gottlieb. For an unpublished novelist (indeed he had barely published anything) to gain the attention of perhaps the leading book editor of his genration is incredible. What happened? Why was it not published?
It's hard to fault Gottlieb. His letters-- reproduced over his own initial objoections-- show his committment to the book. On the other hand, his objections to the book-- that it lacked "meaning"-- were, however sincere, maddeningly unhelpful and unspecific, as he admitted.
Thelma Toole is presented as a domineering, overbearing, grandiose nutcase. But her successful effort to finally have the book published shows a great strength. It's actually inspiring.
Toole eventually killed himself after despainring of the book ever being published. This "failure" hardly explains his act-- how many failed authors go on with their lives or write a second book that is published? Suggestions are made about his homosexulaty (closeted) and his finances (bad since he had to support his parents). Neither is enough. But the events leading to the tragedy, the descent into madness, are touchingly detailed.
One mystery remains. Nevils and Hardy, also first time authors, show that Toole was an excellent student, though hardly a world-beater when he ventured beyond New Orleans. They reproduce many of his letters. While the letters are fine, there is not a single inkling of either the prose style, the imagination, or the comedy that is on every page of Toole's novel. Though we are told constantly how funny Toole was in real life, we never see it. Where did the genius in the book spring from, and why was it not eviedent in any of his other work?
A chilling thought occurred to me towards the end of the book. The authors reproduce a letter from Thelma Toole to her lawyer. Shen concludes a trademark harangue: "My nervous system is drained by this harrwoing legal matter." That's Ignatius all over.
Is it possible that Thelma had a hand in the book or was-- even weirder-- it's ghostwriter? It's a bizzare notion and I have not one shred of evidence to back it up. But throughout the biography, Thelma is portrayed as not of the sensibility to even appreciate the book or its humor. Yet she is the one person-- including J.K. Toole-- who had the strength and faith to see the project through.
In the end, I recommend "Ignatius Rising" to anyone who read "Confederacy" and loved it. As to those who read it and did not love it, they lack all sense of taste or decency. As to those who never read the novel, read it first, then read the biography of the tragic author who (probably) created it.
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5.0 out of 5 stars If you thought the characters in "Confederacy..." were odd.., June 8 2001
This review is from: Ignatius Rising: The Life of John Kennedy Toole (Hardcover)
This book is a fascinating look at the troubled life of the man who gave us one of the funniest and most memorable American novels of all time, "A Confederacy of Dunces". Toole was odd, brilliant with words, confused, sometimes scathing, but very likable despite his problems. His mother, on the other hand... oh my god! When you are done with this novel, you will understand why the characters in "Confederacy..." are the way they are. You'll be heartbroken at Toole's decision to kill himself, mystified by both his decisions about his book and the last weeks of his life, and stunned by his mother's interactions with everyone. There were parts of this bio that were so painful that I had to close it- yet it was so compelling a story that I had to open it again right away. The authors covered nearly everything from every angle, and their sources are diverse and really flesh out Toole's different lives. (You'll know what that means when you read this book.)
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4.0 out of 5 stars A Fascinating Look at a Tormented Soul, Aug. 29 2001
By 
debra crosby (Austin, TX) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Ignatius Rising: The Life of John Kennedy Toole (Hardcover)
Ever since I read "A Confederacy of Dunces" and heard the legend about how it got published, I have been interested in the character of its author. This biography provides an interesting look at the life of John Kennedy Toole and sheds some light on a complex man whose inner demons finally destroyed his spirit and ultimately, his life. His mother, probably the greatest influence on John, is drawn as vividly as he is, and comes across as a fascinating and maddening woman who nonetheless always believed in her son's work. Their relationship is at the core of John's life as well as his pain. The ultimate tragedy for us readers is that we won't ever see any more of his work. John's tragedy was that he thought no one would ever want to. A well documented character study that is a must read for anyone who is a fan of Toole's masterpiece!
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4.0 out of 5 stars "John Kennedy Toole, child prodigy, son, novelist ....", July 5 2001
By 
Lisa S. Aymond (Baton Rouge, LA USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Ignatius Rising: The Life of John Kennedy Toole (Hardcover)
Intriguing, compelling and so very interesting! Ignatius Rising is a wonderful story about the life of a someone who you could not help but feel sorry for. If only he knew the great things that would become if he would have just pushed himself a little harder. His mother (and I use that term loosely) was a very driven woman who drove her son to his demise. Having grown up in New Orleans, it was wonderful to read of so many familiar surroundings. New Orleans is full of history and John Kennedy Toole is one of the figures in New Orleans history who should be immortalized for a long time. Kudos to Rene' Nevils and Deborah Hardy - you did a great job!!
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4.0 out of 5 stars Thorough, depressing, April 3 2002
By 
M. Pickering "m1471" (United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Ignatius Rising: The Life of John Kennedy Toole (Hardcover)
This is a mostly sad tale about a very talented writer. It really shows the dominace his mother had over him and how conflicted he was about who he was, which in the end was probably why he killed himself. Many writers get rejected, they all don't kill themselves... so it was Nevils and Hardy's job to shed light on the many factors that led to his suicide, which I believe they did very well.
However it's not all dark and gloomy, reading about how insane his mother was quite funny at times, although I wouldn't want to spend an evening at one of her recitals or listen to her ramble on the phone(I have my own mother for that)
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