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H.P. Lovecraft: A Life [Paperback]

S. T. Joshi
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Product details

  • Paperback: 704 pages
  • Publisher: Necronomicon Press (1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0940884887
  • ISBN-13: 978-0940884885
  • Product Dimensions: 21.6 x 14.5 x 4.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 329,453 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Oh Dear it reads like essay notes 12 Feb 2012
By dregj
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Critics of lovecrafts previous biography(sprague de camp) has said the authour leaves gaps in the life of lovecraft
and is not very sympathetic to the man himself.There are whole paragraphs of character assasination
detailing the mistakes lovecraft made in his life with 20/20 hindsight.
It does however have the virtue of telling the story of his life coherently and in an entertaining and informative manner.
Joshi doesnt do this at all.This isnt even a book, its a bunch of all his research notes slapped together with little snippets of lovecrafts life in chronological order.The events of his life are detailed but endlessly broken up by supporting letters and statements attributed to lovecraft or friends and family.The book is almost unreadable,and any publisher should have edtied out most of joshi's waffle and made the book more reader friendly(or accessable at all) .More of a secondary school text book on the subject of lovecraft than a biography.
If decamp's book lacks respect/sympathy for the subject then this book (and its authour) lack a soul.
as a reference book it suceeds as a biography it fails on every level
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback
Ignore the naff cover art and design. This is the definitive Lovecraft biography, and the result of a lifetime of scholarship. But be aware that the 'definitive edition' of this book is coming out as a limited-edition two-volume hardback in August 2010. The new edition is retitled, to avoid confusion, as: 'I Am Providence: The Life and Times of H.P. Lovecraft'. It restores 150,000 words originally cut from "A Life" because the publisher of couldn't afford to run the extra pages. It also updates the biography in the light of the Lovecraft scholarship and discoveries in the 15 years, since the appearance of "A Life".
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3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback
Magnificently researched and highly readable - the definitive guide to HPL's life and works.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.7 out of 5 stars  15 reviews
64 of 73 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Difficult mixed bag - comprehensive but needs editing 13 Mar 2008
By Tevis Fen-Kortiay - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
The good: Until S.T. Joshi's book, the only serious, widely-available biographical information on HPL apart from his letters was 'H.P. Lovecraft; A Biography' (1975) by L. Sprague de Camp, which left many gaps and open questions. Joshi's book fills in the gaps and then some. It is the closest thing we have to a definitive Lovecraft bio, and if you're a Lovecraft scholar of any seriousness, you'll eventually need to read it.

The not-so-good: While Joshi's book reads like a rigorously well-researched first draft, I wish he'd consulted a manuscript editor before publication. This massive, expensive and ponderous 708-page book could perhaps be edited into a more readable and reasonably-priced 300-page book, with another 100 pages of small print endnotes, merely by removing Joshi and his scholarship from the foreground and replacing them with Lovecraft. For example:

- Joshi includes himself in the story, using the first person pronoun on nearly every page. "I..." this and "I..." that. While Joshi is likely the world's foremost Lovecraft scholar, and I appreciate his excellent and exhaustive efforts as a researcher, I did not plunk down such a hefty cover price to read about his adventures in scholarship. Easily 200 pages of this 708 page book are about the adventures of Joshi, Lovecraft scholar. That information belongs either in a short appendix or separate article. He'll print a quotation and then add, "To this analysis there is really very little to add...," or "I don't think I can add much to this," or "That last remark may be a little sanguine, but let it pass," seemingly for no other purpose than to firmly return the spotlight, which had momentarily alighted on Lovecraft, to himself. On nearly every page I felt that trapped "captive audience" feeling you get with professors who use class time to speak at length about their personal lives. Surely by now it has become standard practice for biographers to not include the personal "I" in their biographies, at least when they've never met the subject.

- While most biographies focus on the subject and relegate sources and disputes to footnotes and endnotes, Joshi foregrounds the sources and points of contention, which has the odd effect of almost burying the subject. You'll often read four paragraphs of sources and conjecture containing a single sentence of actual biographical information. If Lovecraft did X, but there's some dispute, I'd prefer the main body to say "Lovecraft probably did X," with a small-print footnote citing sources and contentions. I paid to read about Lovecraft, not Lovecraft scholarship. I often feel like I'm being punished, forced to read 708 pages to get 300 pages of information.

- As another reviewer pointed out, Joshi frequently expresses his personal opinions in a tone suggesting that he believes them to be indisputable fact. Especially disconcerting is Joshi's careful habit of never missing an opportunity to denigrate Lovecraft himself. A tiny sampling of Joshi's descriptions of Lovecraft and his work includes: clownish error, clumsily, embarrassing, paranoia, pompous, pseudo-philosophical, trying to do too much, moping, overly given to histrionics, painfully inept, pitiable wish-fulfilment [sic], a pretty sorry excuse for a story, offensive, dubious and pathetic. It's almost as though, while Joshi must have some respect for Lovecraft, he is careful to constantly place himself "above" Lovecraft emotionally. I can sympathize with Joshi, who as a serious scholar must sometimes find himself exasperated by uninformed intellectuals who still underrate Lovecraft's genuine contribution. However, I feel that the body of a biography is not the best place for Joshi to distance himself from Lovecraft's sillier decisions. If Joshi dislikes something, surely he need not bolster his personal opinion by inflating it into a grandiose pretend-fact, pompously lecturing the reader as to what we ought to despise or where to place our "well-deserved contempt."

Why are Joshi's opinions in the book at all? Doesn't he trust his readers to form our own opinions? Almost once per page I felt some resentment at being forced to play captive audience to Joshi's unwelcome editorial opinions and emotional self-positioning in order to gain access to his excellent scholarship. Toward the end Joshi finally provides his editorial rationalization, introducing the topic by slamming previous Lovecraft biographer de Camp with: "[de Camp]'s schoolmasterly chiding of Lovecraft [is] ...galling." Talk about the pot calling the kettle black! Joshi goes on to claim that "passing value judgments... is the proper function of any biographer." Excuse me? As with all of Joshi's most dubious assumptions, he provides not a single citation or justification for this opinion, but merely states it as fact. Many (perhaps most) professional biographers would strongly disagree. I found myself bursting into incredulous laughter when Joshi finally declares, "...on occasion one feels as if Lovecraft is having some difficulty shutting up."

In closing, I hope this book is re-released soon with S.T. Joshi's presence as a character, editorial opinions, emotional self-positioning and research experiences either cut entirely or summarized in an appendix or endnotes. Then it wouldn't hurt to have a professional book doctor rewrite with an eye to smoother prose and readability. THAT edition will be the definitive Lovecraft biography.

ADDENDUM: One commentor to this post announced that a new 2-volume version will be published in 2010 by Hippocampus Press. If anyone from Hippocampus Press reads this, PLEASE do not compound the error already made by Necronomicon Press by republishing the hundreds of pages of material focused on Joshi at the expense of Lovecraft. Get this right and you might publish the definitive Lovecraft bio; repeat the error and your 2-volume edition will become an historical footnote the moment a serious biographer replaces it with a version that respects the reader.

ADDENDUM 2: Alas! The two-volume I Am Providence: The Life and Times of H. P. Lovecraft is even more focused on Joshi at the expense of Lovecraft than the single-volume edition.
36 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Magnificent 26 Aug 2000
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
There is little I can add to the kudos already present on this page in reference to "H.P. Lovecraft: A Life." It is every bit as good as the previous readers have said it is: magnificently detailed, critical yet sympathethic, and, yes, "compulsively readable." The point I wish to add is this. The folks who have already reviewed this book here all seem to be inveterate Lovecraftians; in contrast, I am not. While I am slowly warming to Lovecraft as I read more of his fiction, I really ordered this book simply to obtain some background on the writer for a class I teach which will touch briefly on his work. I never had any intention of actually reading all 600 pages---there was some specific information I was looking for, and really only planned to skim the volume. Well! Five days later I staggered away from this magnificent book, dizzy from reading, exhilarated, moved, overwhelmed. The point is: if you have any interest in literary biography, you owe it to yourself to read this book. It is one of the finest examples of the genre published in the past 30 years, and even if you do not much care about Lovecraft the writer, S.T. Joshi will make you care about Lovecraft the man. It should be required reading for anyone planning to write a biography.
"H.P. Lovecraft: A Life" is a great achievement.
17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hard to Imagine a Better Biography of HPL 16 Dec 2004
By Marc Laidlaw - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Joshi's work is not only thorough and scholarly, creating a well-rounded and moving impression of Lovecraft and his own interests (as opposed to the interests of his biographers), it is also thoroughly entertaining and compulsively readable. More importantly, it is now back in print for the price of $30. Buy it, read it, and join me in hoping that one day S.T. Joshi will find a publisher for the complete and unabridged version. Yes, even this massive volume is abridged.
19 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This book is now back in print - yippee! 15 Oct 2004
By Marc A. Michaud - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Despite it's "out of print" listing above, this book is again available in a new paperback edition from us, the original publisher, Necronomicon Press ... please urge Amazon.com to begin offering it again ...
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars painstakingly informative 6 Oct 2006
By K. D. Kelly - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Clocking in at 654 pages, this sprawling biography will teach you everything you ever wanted to know about the horror scribe -- along with some things you'll wish you hadn't discovered, like how Lovecraft was a more zealous racist than was the norm in his day. Joshi is long-winded, for sure, like the grandfather who, when you ask him how the light switch turns the lamp on, proceeds to tell you the history of electricity, starting with two sticks being rubbed together. You'll be hard-pressed to remember all the details afterward, but the story of Lovecraft's life is smartly woven, divulging the world as viewed through the writer's eyes and those around him. Like a criminologist apt at identifying with a killer, Joshi truly seems to understand his subject down to the crumbs on his coat.
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