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The Most Dangerous Book: The Battle for James Joyce's Ulysses [Hardcover]

Kevin Birmingham
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
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Book Description

12 Jun 2014

'The bomb has exploded. It will blow a hole in the well-guarded prison of English Literature.' The Quarterly Review.

THE MOST DANGEROUS BOOK tells the painful, heartbreaking, exhilirating story of how Joyce's novel was conceived, written, published, burned, acclaimed and excoriated before taking its place as a masterpiece of world literature.

Joyce's book ushered in the modernist era and changed the novel forever. But, for more than a decade, ULYSSES was illegal to own, sell, advertise or purchase. Joyce himself was a penniless outcast, reliant on his faithful supporters to keep both himself and his family going.

After decades of research, Kevin Birmingham brings this remarkable story to life: from the first stirrings of inspiration in 1904 to the landmark federal obscenity trial in 1933.

--This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 417 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Press (12 Jun 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594203369
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594203367
  • Product Dimensions: 24.1 x 16.8 x 3.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 270,026 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


'Riveting ... populated with enough larger-than-life characters and twists to make a fiction writer envious' Matthew Pearl.

'A wonderfully eye-opening read ... superb' Frank Delaney.

'Birmingham's imaginative scholarship brings Joyce and his world to life' Louis Menand.

'Kevin Birmingham has a deep love of Ulysses, and knows everything about Joyce. His learned book is a gripping page-tuner' A. N. Wilson, The Sunday Telegraph.

'A riveting account of just how difficult it was to bring Ulysses into the world' The Sunday Herald.

'Birmingham skillfully teases out the revolutionary mood of the time ... Joyce would have been delighted' The Sunday Times.

'Meticulously researched' Belfast Telegraph.

'Few books about publishing manage to be this gripping. Like the novel which it takes as its subject, it deserves to be read' Economist.

'Birmingham tells the story with a mixture of compelling insight and deeply researched knowledge to form that most unusual hybrid: an erudite page-turner' Mail on Sunday. --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.

About the Author

Kevin Birmingham is a lecturer in History & Literature at Harvard. He was a bartender in a Dublin pub featured in ULYSSES for one day before he was unceremoniously fired. This is his first book.

--This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A double stream of consciousness 11 Jun 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
We're told that there are something like 300 books about Joyce's 'Ulysses', but this one is rather different. It's about the genesis and more particularly about the publication of the book. It's well known that publication was difficult, many publishers and printers declined it; it was saved by Shakespeare & Co in Paris, and typeset in Dijon by people who didn't know English. Even then, it was declared to be 'obscene', and the power of the US Post Office was used against it. There are some quite comical episodes where smugglers brought the books to the US.

Beside these difficulties, we are introduced to the Hicklin Rules and the Comstock Laws for obscenity, and the reason for banning such books; not just because of their sexual content, but because of the anarchistic ideas they could engender; the laws were crowd control on a large scale.

Unsurprisingly, the book has a decided US slant, for it was there that it went on trial; the quasi-comedy continues with the defender demanding that the book be impounded by the US Customs, so that it could be tried under Tariff Laws, rather than Obscenity Laws, and then doing his best to get a sympathetic judge to hear the case. And when 'Ulysses' is allowed to be imported into the US, the publisher there issues an edition based on a pirated and incomplete version.

One chapter is rather out of place; this is the much commented one on Joyce's iritis, something from which he suffered for many years, and for which underwent multiple operations. The author's original research shows that Joyce was treated with a drug used only against syphilis—it was quite ineffective.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars There's not much to add... 14 Jun 2014
By Jill Meyer TOP 500 REVIEWER
Kevin Birmingham's book, "The Most Dangerous Book: The Battle for James Joyce's Ulysses" has already received a number of excellently written and well-deserved laudatory reviews. There's not much I can add beside saying that you do not have to be a James Joyce devotee or a lover of "Ulysses" to enjoy Birmingham's book. I'm not "literary" in the least - check my reviews! - but I do love a great biography or other well-written work of non-fiction, which is exactly what Kevin Birmingham has written.

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.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Joyce University 21 Jun 2014
By David Wineberg TOP 1000 REVIEWER
The Most Dangerous Book is a life’s work about a life’s work. Kevin Birmingham has performed mountainous research, which he assimilates, assembles and displays in logical order, in easy to read sections, and in great depth and drama. It is a first rate thriller all the way. Joyce, the faulty, complex, highly imperfect being he was, makes the adventure riveting.

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.
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Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
An absolutely riveting read. Well written, layout of text is reader friendly,and as I say the content is a compelling read of how the book, after many years of being burned and banned, finally was accepted for what it is - a/the classic of modernist literature..
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A well researched work 26 July 2014
The Most Dangerous Book The Battle for James Joyce's Ulysses by Kevin Birmingham is a very comprehensive account of the extensive efforts of censors to block sales and distribution of Ulysses. This was done, as Birmingham details at length, though pressures exerted on publishers, the banning of the book by American customs and postal authorities, legal charges of obscenities and other methods. Birimgham details the eventual success of the book's advocates. We are made to see the cultural wars centering on the greatest work of literary modernism.

This book does what it purports to do. If you want an exhaustive account of the difficulties of first distributing Ulysses this will provide that. I recently read James Joyce - A New Biography by Gordon Bowker. It covers the same ground and gives you an insightful and interesting biography of Joyce, and costs less. Most people will find they can get all the information they might want with a Google search and a few minutes on Wikepedia. This is not a reflection on the excellant research and literary ability of Birmingham. It is just a fact. Probably Bowker and Birmingham's books were in press about the same time.
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