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The Most Dangerous Book: The Battle for James Joyces Ulysses Hardcover – Jun 12 2014
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Dwight Garner, The New York Times:
"Kevin Birmingham’s new book about the long censorship fight over James Joyce’s Ulysses braids eight or nine good stories into one mighty strand... The best story that’s told… may be that of the arrival of a significant young nonfiction writer. Mr. Birmingham, a lecturer in history and literature at Harvard, appears fully formed in this, his first book. The historian and the writer in him are utterly in sync. He marches through this material with authority and grace, an instinct for detail and smacking quotation and a fair amount of wit. It’s a measured yet bravura performance."
Rachel Shteir, The New York Times Book Review:
“So it is all the more impressive that this young Harvard Ph.D. in English has written a grand, readable adventure story about the novel’s legal troubles… Birmingham spent years sifting through archives. It shows. He has read Ulysses deeply, borrowing its organizing principles, telescoping some moments, amplifying others, jumping from character to character, continent to continent, subject to subject, text analysis to literary history. This all makes The Most Dangerous Book dynamic.”
Michael Dirda, The Washington Post:
“Birmingham has produced an excellent work of consolidation…. [A] lively history …. The Most Dangerous Book is impressively
researched and especially useful for its meticulous accounts of various legal battles. It is meant to be fun to read and, setting aside my fogeyish cavils, it is.”
“[G]ripping. Like the novel which it takes as its subject, it deserves to be read.”
The New Yorker:
“Terrific…. The Most Dangerous Book is the fullest account anybody has made of the publication history of Ulysses. Birmingham’s brilliant study makes you realize how important owning this book, the physical book, has always been to people."
“Birmingham recounts this story with a richness of detail and dramatic verve unexpected of literary history, making one almost nostalgic for the bad old days, when a book could be still be dangerous.”
The Wall Street Journal:
“The story of Ulysses has been told before, but not with Mr. Birmingham's thoroughness. The Most Dangerous Book makes use of newspaper reports, court documents, letters and the existing Joyce biographies. It looks back to a time ‘when novelists tested the limits of the law and when novels were dangerous enough to be burned’ and makes one almost nostalgic for it.”
Dallas Morning News:
“Hundreds of books and thousands of articles have been written about Ulysses since its publication. Kevin Birmingham’s The Most Dangerous Book is a splendid addition…. this book has groundbreaking new archival research, and it thrills like a courtroom drama.”
“I am not a Joycean. But I loved Kevin Birmingham’s The Most Dangerous Book anyway. You don’t need to be a Bloomsday devotee to enjoy or profit mightily from it. Birmingham… writes with fluidity and a surprising eye for fun. He probably has read through the mountains of books and scholarly articles on Ulysses and seems obsessed with the book itself, but wears it all lightly. [A] vivid narrative [that]…makes you want to go back and read—and treasure—Joyce’s novel because he liberally salts the novel’s backstory with memorable anecdotes and apercus, especially at the close of each chapter.”
“Lively and engrossing.”
“[A] deeply fun work of scholarship that rescues Ulysses from the superlatives and academic battles that shroud its fundamental unruliness and humanity.”
“Astute and gorgeously written…. [The] battle for Ulysses…is a story that, as Birmingham puts it, forced the world to ‘recognize that beauty is deeper than pleasure and that art is larger than beauty.’ He has done it justice.”
Chronicle of Higher Education:
“An essential, thoroughly researched addition to Joyceana and a consistently engaging narrative of how sexuality, aesthetics, morality, and jurisprudence collided almost a century ago.”
“Kevin Birmingham’s The Most Dangerous Book: The Battle for James Joyce’s Ulysses casts its nets… widely, synthesizing enormous amounts of information and describing in detail the multiple circumstances surrounding the gestation, publication and suppression of Ulysses. Birmingham is a fluid writer, and the more intricate the detail, the more compelling the narrative he constructs: his account of the rise of American obscenity laws… is as gripping to read as his account of the barbaric eye surgeries Joyce endured or his account of the nearly slapstick manner in which Samuel Roth published a pirated edition of Ulysses in 1929.”
Publishers Weekly (starred):
“Exultant….Drawing upon extensive research, Birmingham skillfully converts the dust of the archive into vivid narrative, steeping readers in the culture, law, and art of a world forced to contend with a masterpiece.”
Kirkus Reviews (starred):
“[A] sharp, well-written debut….Birmingham makes palpable the courage and commitment of the rebels who championed Joyce, but he grants the censors their points of view as well in this absorbing chronicle of a tumultuous time. Superb cultural history, pulling together many strands of literary, judicial and societal developments into a smoothly woven narrative fabric.”
“What begins as simply the ‘biography of a book’ morphs into an absorbing, deeply researched, and accessible guide to the history of modern thought in the first two decades of the 20th century through the lens of Joyce’s innovative fiction.”
“Birmingham delivers for the first time a complete account of the legal war waged…to get Joyce’s masterpiece past British and American obscenity laws. Birmingham has chronicled an epoch-making triumph for literature.”
About the Author
Kevin Birmingham received his PhD in English from Harvard, where he is a lecturer in History & Literature and an instructor in the university’s writing program. His research focuses on twentieth-century fiction and culture, literary obscenity and the avant-garde. He was a bartender in a Dublin pub featured in Ulysses for one day before he was unceremoniously fired. This is his first book.See all Product Description
Top Customer Reviews
Literary complements like "The Most Dangerous Book: The Battle for James..." can be helpful in understanding Joyce's works.
Ulysses is the tale of a Modern-day Odysseus, Leopold Bloom in his personal existential/sexual quest. The conclusion of this quest is the quintessential affirmation of humanity, the fundamental family unit - the father, mother, son, and daughter. Like Odysseus, absent from Penelope, traveling the world, for many long years, Leopold Bloom is also absent from his Penelope (in Dublin). Like a traveler (Odysseus), Bloom is sexually absent (abstinent) from Molly “10 years, 5 months and 18 days” (736). Unlike Odysseus, the obstacles Bloom faces are psychological (modern) - internal travails instead of Odysseus' external travails. Bloom's only son’s death has become a psychological barrier; as Molly reflects: “we were never the same since” (778). Yet Bloom is optimistic throughout the work - in regard to the possibility of another child, again Molly: ”Ill give him one more chance” (780). Affirmatively (as we grow to know Molly) we find she has given and is willing to continue to give Bloom “one more chance”.Read more ›
There was something about the turn of the century that caused the western world to churn. It started in about 1895 with Art Nouveau, a radical departure from standard architecture, that spread to décor and household items. Classical music very suddenly went postmodern, atonal, and asymmetrical. It actually spurned the audience in favour of style. Picasso, about the only person who realized what was going on (sitting in his favorite bar listening to the new music in Art Nouveau-crazed Barcelona), consciously decided art needed a total breakout too. His response was cubism. Politically, anarchists were attempting to destroy the whole socio-political infrastructure. Joyce began to do the same to the novel. All of these sudden developments were discomfiting, strange, and difficult to digest. Like typical revolutions, they all reverted to the mean, leaving marks mostly historically. The Most Dangerous Book drags us through the ups and downs of a heroic struggle of epic proportions. Because in this case there were laws against it.
Joyce was a most unlikely candidate for this kind of reverence. He was “a blushing trembling man with weak eyes and a fear of dogs”, according to Sylvia Beach. He was afraid of the ocean, heights, horses, machinery, and thunderstorms. He was rude, crude, unhelpful, unkind, unco-operative and stubborn. But what he wrote changed people’s outlook on life as well as literature.Read more ›
The fight to print - in the UK and the US - and the people behind that fight are so cogently explained, in a proper historical context (1900s-1920s). And, of course, Birmingham also examines Joyce's writing of the book and the influences - both literary and real - that made both the book and the author so relevant.
If you are as interested in the writing and publishing of James Joyce's "Ulysses", as in the novel itself, you'll enjoy Kevin Birmingham's book.
The story is populated with larger-than-life characters who showed considerable bravery in the face of attempts to suppress the book, from Joyce himself to his Paris publisher Sylvia Beach, from Ernest Hemingway to the anarchist Emma Goldman. Highly recommended to all fans of Joyce's work.