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Pushkin [Paperback]

T. J. Binyon
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
RRP: 18.99
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Book Description

18 Mar 2011

A major biography of one of literature’s most romantic and enigmatic figures, published in hardback to great acclaim: ‘one of the great biographies of recent times’ (Sunday Telegraph).

Alexander Sergeevich Pushkin is indisputably Russia’s greatest poet – the nearest Russian equivalent to Shakespeare – and his brief life was as turbulent and dramatic as anything in his work. T.J Binyon’s biography of this brilliant and rebellious figure is ‘a remarkable achievement’ and its publication ‘a real event’ (Catriona Kelly, Guardian).

‘No other work on Pushkin on the same scale, and with the same grasp of atmosphere and detail, exists in English… And Pushkin is well worth writing about… he was a remarkable man, a man of action as well as a poet, and he lived a remarkable life, dying in a duel at the age of thirty-seven.’ (John Bayley, Literary Review)

Among the delights of this beautifully illustrated and lavishly produced book are the ‘caricatures of venal old men with popping eyes and side-whiskers, society beauties with long necks and empire curls and, most touchingly, images of his “cross-eyed madonna” Natalya’ (Rachel Polonsky, Evening Standard).

Binyon ‘knows almost everything there is to know about Pushkin. He scrupulously chronicles his life in all its disorder, from his years at the Lycee through exile in the Crimea, Bessarabia and Odessa, for writing liberal verses, and on to the publication of Eugene Onegin and, eventually, after much wrangling with the censor, Boris Godunov’ (Julian Evans, New Statesman) and in this, ‘Binyon is unbeatable’(Clive James, TLS).

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Pushkin + The Collected Stories (Everyman's Library classics)
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Product details

  • Paperback
  • Publisher: HarperCollins; (Reissue) edition (18 Mar 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0006373380
  • ISBN-13: 978-0006373384
  • Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 407,070 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Amazon Review

For the English-speaking reader, it's hard to comprehend the massive esteem in which Pushkin is held in his native Russia. While lip service is paid to his literary greatness on these shores, he is probably better known as the source of opera libretti (such as Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin) than for his actual writings, which is a great shame. TJ Binyon's remarkable Pushkin: A Biography should, hopefully, do something to redress the balance.

This is a model of its kind: a biography that carefully and assiduously marshals the facts about its fascinating protagonist, but refuses to push the reader into easy judgments. It is a celebration of a remarkable man. From Pushkin's early days as a combative anti-establishment rebel to the heights of his fame and success, Binyon relates (in elegant and balanced prose) the crucial events that formed the writer's genius. The colourful era of Russia in the 19th century is, of course, brought to life with evocative detail (Binyon is a Russian specialist, and his authority in this field knows few peers).

But the book is as much a biography of an era as it is of its charismatic subject. Pushkin's violent death was enshrouded in controversy (rather like that of Tchaikovsky, who famously set Pushkin's texts to music), and the cocktail of sex, jealousy and madness that precipitated his death from a bullet wound to the genitals is handled with trenchant skill. The final effect of all great biographies of writers should be to send the reader back to the work, and within the first few chapters of Binyon's sweeping and fastidious study, that is exactly the effect created here. --Barry Forshaw --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


‘Only a biographer of the first rank could show how the poet’s brilliant spirit was extinguished, not just by a regime, but by elements in that regime that to some extent reflected his own personality. That is true tragedy, and that is Russia.’ George Walden, Sunday Telegraph

‘A weighty biography in every sense, Binyon’s book is poignant, brisk and at times downright funny: the best possible tribute to the changeable and elusively fascinating character of its subject.’ Catriona Kelly, Guardian

’A grippingly entertaining and magnificently authoritative account of the poet’s life, which is, almost unbelievably, the first to appear in any language since 1937.’ Alan Marshall, Daily Telegraph

‘In T.J Binyon [Pushkin] has finally found the biographer he deserves. Here in all its splendour is his rebellious, flamboyant personality and his world of tenuous finance, imperial balls and sexual adventure… Pushkin remains immortal and he certainly lives again in this book.’ Simon Sebag Montefiore, Mail on Sunday

‘Binyon’s Life gives a marvellously clear sense of the man Pushkin might have been to meet: alternately belligerent and sweet, physically small. On the matter of Pushkin’s politics, Binyon is excellent.’ Ian Thomson, Independent on Sunday

‘Scrupulously researched, lucidly and ojectively written, with an admirable lightness of touch and a good dose of dry humour’. (Economist)

‘Readable, perceptive and witty… a valuable achievement.’ Jonathan Sumption, Spectator

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Customer Reviews

4.0 out of 5 stars
4.0 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fine biography. 28 Jan 2004
I knew almost nothing of Pushkin before reading this book. Binyon does a fine job of taking us through his life. His judgements are balanced, his prose measured but readable and the story, though taken rather slowly at first, builds up into the moving climax of Pushkin's untimely death. Binyon's research is impeccable- he tells us just enough about the other characters in the story without overwhelming the reader with trivia. There were times when I wished he had stood back from his subject and allowed his own personal reactions to Pushkin more scope. (Binyon is too intelligent and perceptive for these not to have been of interest.) It is also difficult for non-Russian readers to understand quite why Pushkin appealed and appeals so strongly to the Russian soul and Binyon might have explored this further. However, I cannot award a book I have so enjoyed anything less than five stars.
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5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Sad but addictive reading 18 Sep 2003
I had saved this book with a few others for the summer holiday but ended up only reading this one. Great read but not a page turner as it is detailed beyond the norm. Should appeal to non poetry readers like myself. Best history book i have read this year and am tempted to buy onegin.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Intriguing 8 May 2012
A fascinating and exhaustively researched study of Pushkin.

It is intriguing to read of the strange contradictions in this man who could be so illogical in all his attitudes, towards his heritary, politics, Europe and his relationships with women.

He comes across in fact as a mass of contradictions, snobbish about his ancient linage but proud of his descent from an African slave, both radical and reactionary in his politics (and extremely reactionary in his attitude towards women) given to falling madly in love with some women, abusive in his treatment of others such as poor Annete Vulf.

Binyon remarks at one point, these days Pushkin might have been diagnosed as 'bi polar', and his dying 140,000 roubles in debt is arguably a sign of that. I wonder if he'd been given medication to 'stabalise' his mood swings, he might have lost his poetry as well as the intense enthusiams and depressions?

I was a bit disappointed in the lack of detail concerning his wife Natayla and their domestic situation. I realise that her letters to him have been lost.

I feel too, since reading other works on Pushkin's last months and the intricate torment from which he suffered, that Binyon has allowed himself to be somewhat biased in his presetation of research, letters, etc.

He takes the view that d'Anthes, the dashing officer who openly paid court to Natalya, was little more than a stalker, but in fact various pieces of written evidence etc give a very different interpretation of the relations between d'Anthes and Natalya, and the possibility that the woman who married the great poet might have been attracted to another man.
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3 of 8 people found the following review helpful
If you want to know how much money Pushkin owed and to whom on any given day of his life, who he slept with the night before and the Byzantine intracies of his social circle, then this is an outstandingly researched book. But if you are interested in literature and why he wrote what he wrote, then I would not advise this book. (It's not like Ellmann's biography of Joyce, for example). That's why I only give it three stars. I haven't gone back to my complete works of Pushkin with new insights and interests...If that's what you want this book for, then reconsider before reading (and be warned, it's not easy to get through - those social networks are very complicated).
On a personal level I would like to have had the quotations of his poetry in the original Russian, - I'll accept that is probably a minority requirement (even though someone interested enough in Pushkin to read a book like this might well know Russian), but I've not penalised him for this in my rating.
But many thanks for one piece of information. Pushkin once met the mayor of Sarapul where I have many friends and where I go from time to time. I was delighted to tell my friends that Pushkin once met their mayor - something they didn't know (Sarapul is in the Urals, near Yezhevsk if you're interested...).
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