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A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius Paperback – 9 Feb 2001

3.7 out of 5 stars 76 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; New edition edition (9 Feb. 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0330484559
  • ISBN-13: 978-0330484558
  • Product Dimensions: 19.5 x 12.9 x 3.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (76 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 96,185 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description

Amazon Review

At the age of 22, Dave Eggers became both an orphan and a "single mother" when his parents died within five months of one another of unrelated cancers. In the ensuing sibling division of labour, Dave is appointed unofficial guardian of his eight-year-old brother, Christopher. The two live together in semi-squalor, decaying food and sports equipment scattered about, while Eggers worries obsessively about child-welfare authorities, molesting babysitters and his own health. His child-rearing strategy swings between making his brother's upbringing fun and performing bizarre developmental experiments on him. (Case in point: his idea of suitable bedtime reading is John Hersey's Hiroshima.) A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius is also, perhaps less successfully, about being young and hip and out to conquer the world (in an ironic, media-savvy, Generation-X way, naturally). In the early 1990s, Eggers was one of the founders of the very funny Might Magazine, and he spends a fair amount of time here on Might, the hipster culture of San Francisco's South Park and his own efforts to get on to MTV's Real World. This sort of thing doesn't age very well--but then, Eggers knows that. There's no criticism you can come up with that he hasn't put into A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius already. "The book thereafter is kind of uneven," he tells us regarding the contents after page 109, and while that's true, it's still uneven in a way that is funny and heartfelt and interesting. All this self-consciousness could have become unbearably arch. It's a testament to Eggers's skill as a writer--and to the heartbreaking particulars of his story--that it doesn't. Eggers comes from the most media-saturated generation in history--so much so that he can't feel an emotion without the sense that it's already been felt for him. What may seem like postmodern noodling is really just Eggers writing about pain in the only honest way available to him. Oddly enough, the effect is one of complete sincerity, and--especially in its concluding pages--this memoir as metafiction is affecting beyond all rational explanation. --Mary Park --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

David Sedaris The force and energy of this book could power a train. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on 29 July 2001
Format: Paperback
I had been warned the book would literally lose the plot after the first few chapters, so relished the early parts, waiting for it to deteriorate. It never did for me. I read the entire thing, notes, acknowledgements et al and loved it. Yes it does ramble but Eggers writes as he thinks which I found totally engrossing. His often subtle references to his relationship with his brother were gutting, contrasting to his aggressive, laddish, but hilarious accounts of life in his 20s. To me, the book is brave, self-conscious and was like living inside his head for a few days; which is why over editing would have ruined it. In spite of the apparent arrogance of the title, I think Eggers would be genuinely bemused that anyone had actually spent half an hour giving discussing his book on this web site. A word of advice - definitely read the notes afterwards, they put a lot of things into perspective.
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Format: Paperback
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius is the topsoil of a tragedy, the first layers of earth pushed aside in a painful personal excavation, where the treasure seems to remain deeply buried.
This first book by author Dave Eggers is a memoir. Eggers tells of the years following the deaths of both his parents - deaths which occurred within 5 weeks of one another - and how, at the age of 21, he became his younger brother Toph's guardian.
Eggers uses a highly self-conscious style of writing - confiding his fears of his own early death, terrors that something untoward will happen to his brother, or the sensations of his own flapping genitalia when running naked for a photo shoot. But his utter preoccupation with here-and-now mundanity or with imagined future horrors are but his shield against the true conscious experience of his own grief.
Although the story of AHWOSG rests upon the tragic reality of parental deaths, ironically there is no mourning. There were no burials, no gravestones, no remains to be grieved over. Soon after these deaths, Dave and Toph move from Lake Forest, IL to Berkeley. Dave nominally ensures that Toph is fed and clothed and schooled, but without embodied parental authority, "in a world with neither floor nor ceiling," the two live in semi-anarchy, enjoying the freedom to eat junk food and drive to the beach and play frisbee whenever the impulse might strike.
Unable to see logic in his parents' deaths, he sublimates his need for order and justice into the making of a magazine, Might. The mission of Might is to take "a formless and mute mass of human potential and...to mold it into a political force." This counter-cultural magazine is designed to be both provocative and empowering, but over time it becomes more shocking and in-your-face.
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By A Customer on 14 Feb. 2001
Format: Paperback
I disagree with the other reviewers - I thought this book more than lived up to the hype - unlike some other books, like 'White Teeth' - how did that win the Guardian First Novel over this? This book is a hundred times better - it utterly lives up to its title.
I've never quite read a book structured like this before - the acknowledgements themselves, as long as they are, had me in hysterics and their lightness was a brilliant contrast to the actual 'book' which within 3 pages had me nearly in tears. It's one of those literary novels which is accessible and even better funny. And the word 'post modern' does apply but, (and this must be a record) it manages to do that too without being pretentious. It's utterly readable and disgestible and will you have flicking pages. There are passages of wonderful comedy and passages of raw emotion that punches you in the gut. Amazing, quite unusual and deserves to be a big bestseller.
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Format: Hardcover
Ok, so I agree in parts with the more negative reviews. This book is very self-involved, at times self pitying, ranting, rambling, annoying even. But take a step back: you don't have to love the main character to love the book. I'm sure I would throttle Dave Eggers if I had to live with him. But I don't, and his book is, if not genius, then original, poetic, touching, real and very funny. Tolerate Eggers' more "self devouring" moments and enjoy the book. You may dislike the author by the end, but this book will stir you to laugh or just think, nonetheless.
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Format: Paperback
As the first work of `hipster icon', `McSweeney's' founder, and all-round swell guy; Dave Eggers, it was with no small amount of anticipation that I picked up `A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius'.
Having put it down a short time afterward, I felt completely confused as to how it had garnered such critical acclaim, both in the US, and this country.

The book is ostensibly a memoir of the tragic loss of Dave Egger's parents, accompanied by a series of anecdotes, the telling of which is facilitated by a couple of flimsy literary devices.

The first part of the book is certainly well-written and worth reading. The theme of being thrown into a situation where you are suddenly, simultaneously an elder sibling and a single-parent, with all the difficulties, and possible rewards that might bring, is seemingly rich ground for exploration. However this is only done in the most perfunctory of ways, before the author abandons the theme early on in the book.

The complexities of the sibling/parent paradox aside, family bereavement (no matter how shocking and sudden the circumstances) is possibly not the most compelling of themes for a 400+ page book, and Eggers quickly seems to realise this around page 103, where he runs out things to say on the subject. He doesn't let this deter him though. Indeed Eggers seems to excel at writing an awful lot while saying almost nothing.

Having dealt with the most (if not only) substantial concept in the book, the narrative quickly descends into a series of tame, self-indulgent, rambling anecdotes about: getting roughed up a little bit on a beach by some Mexicans, being wonderfully young, hip, and fresh and starting a magazine, and setting fire to a tennis ball and kicking it around.
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