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Saul Steinberg: A Biography Hardcover – 4 Apr 2013

3.0 out of 5 stars 1 customer review

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 752 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday & Co Inc.; First Edition edition (4 April 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 038552448X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385524483
  • Product Dimensions: 17.9 x 4.7 x 24.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,027,710 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

"I thought I knew Saul Steinberg, yet in Deirdre Bair's biography I learned of the extraordinary life, replete with his most intimate musings, this guardedly private man lived. It brought back the unique wit and humanism that make Steinberg one of the towering creative forces of the 20th Century."
--Francoise Mouly, Art Editor, "The New Yorker"



"The definitive portrait of an illustrator, an artist, who created some of the defining images of the 20th Century. Bair has written the enchanting and illuminating biography that Steinberg always deserved."
--Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith, Pulitzer Prize-winning authors of "Van Gogh: The Life"

"I thought I knew Saul Steinberg, yet in Deirdre Bair's biography I learned of the extraordinary life, replete with his most intimate musings, this guardedly private man lived. It brought back the unique wit and humanism that make Steinberg one of the towering creative forces of the 20th Century."
--Francoise Mouly, Art Editor, "The New Yorker"



"With this enthralling and exhaustive biography, Deirdre Bair traces the first complete portrait of the private, astringent (and now formerly) inscrutable artist/cartoonist in a nonjudgmental manner, all the while gaping at the famous friendships, expansive career, and, most surprisingly, messy marriages that Steinberg so peripatetically and painfully inhabited. Steinberg was not only the most 'twentieth century' of twentieth century artists, but also one of the most flabbergasting."
--Chris Ware, cartoonist

"Does his reading "Huck Finn" in an Italian concentration camp, his belief that Cyrillic 'looks like sneezes, ' his TV commercial for Jell-O, or the hunch that Mickey Mouse was black explain Saul Steinberg? Not entirely, but Deirdre Bair does the rest, in her sensitive, stylish portrait of an American original. A rich, sparkling joy of a book."
--Stacy Schiff, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of "Cleopatra"

"The definitive portrait of an illustrator, an artist, who created some of the defining images of the 20th Century. Bair has written the enchanting and illuminating biography that Steinberg always deserved."
--Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith, Pulitzer Prize-winning authors of "Van Gogh: The Life"

"I thought I knew Saul Steinberg, yet in Deirdre Bair's biography I learned of the extraordinary life, replete with his most intimate musings, this guardedly private man lived. It brought back the unique wit and humanism that make Steinberg one of the towering creative forces of the 20th Century."
--Francoise Mouly, Art Editor, "The New Yorker"

"The pre-eminent "New Yorker" cartoonist leads a life worthy of his own ironic art in this scintillating biography ... Steinberg emerges as a tangle of neurotic contradictions ... Bair's long and amply researched biography unfolds in a graceful prose that's stocked with absurdist scenes and colorful characters ... Her breezy writing works subtly and slyly to unearth psychological depths beneath that amusing surface of the Steinbergian picaresque."
--"Publishers Weekly," starred and boxed review
"With this enthralling and exhaustive biography, Deirdre Bair traces the first complete portrait of the private, astringent (and now formerly) inscrutable artist/cartoonist in a nonjudgmental manner, all the while gaping at the famous friendships, expansive career, and, most surprisingly, messy affairs that Steinberg so peripatetically and painfully inhabited. Steinberg was not only the most 'twentieth century' of twentieth century artists, but also one of the most flabbergasting."
--Chris Ware, cartoonist
"Does his reading "Huck Finn" in an Italian concentration camp, his belief that Cyrillic 'looks like sneezes, ' his TV commercial for Jell-O, or the hunch that Mickey Mouse was black explain Saul Steinberg? Not entirely, but Deirdre Bair does the rest, in her sensitive, stylish portrait of an American original. A rich, sparkling joy of a book."
--Stacy Schiff, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of "Cleopatra"
"The definitive portrait of an illustrator, an artist, who created some of the defining images of the 20th Century. Bair has written the enchanting and illuminating biography that Steinberg always deserved."
--Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith, Pulitzer Prize-winning authors of "Van Gogh: The Life"
"I thought I knew Saul Steinberg, yet in Deirdre Bair's biography I learned of the extraordinary life, replete with his most intimate musings, this guardedly private man lived. It brought back the unique wit and humanism that make Ste

"Gripping and revelatory ... There is much that is new in Bair's book, and Steinberg emerges from her account as a paradigmatic 20th-century exile and traveler, crossing and recrossing fixed boundary lines in both his life and his work ... Steinberg certainly produced his share of classics, and in the process he helped pave the way for a culture of boundary-blurrers ... He showed that literature can be created without using a single sentence."
--Deborah Solomon, "The New York Times Book Review
"
"The pre-eminent "New Yorker" cartoonist leads a life worthy of his own ironic art in this scintillating biography ... Steinberg emerges as a tangle of neurotic contradictions ... Bair's long and amply researched biography unfolds in a graceful prose that's stocked with absurdist scenes and colorful characters ... Her breezy writing works subtly and slyly to unearth psychological depths beneath that amusing surface of the Steinbergian picaresque."
--"Publishers Weekly," starred and boxed review
"With this enthralling and exhaustive biography, Deirdre Bair traces the first complete portrait of the private, astringent (and now formerly) inscrutable artist/cartoonist in a nonjudgmental manner, all the while gaping at the famous friendships, expansive career, and, most surprisingly, messy affairs that Steinberg so peripatetically and painfully inhabited. Steinberg was not only the most 'twentieth century' of twentieth century artists, but also one of the most flabbergasting."
--Chris Ware, cartoonist
"Does his reading "Huck Finn" in an Italian concentration camp, his belief that Cyrillic 'looks like sneezes, ' his TV commercial for Jell-O, or the hunch that Mickey Mouse was black explain Saul Steinberg? Not entirely, but Deirdre Bair does the rest, in her sensitive, stylish portrait of an American original. A rich, sparkling joy of a book."
--Stacy Schiff, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of "Cleopatra"
"The definitive portrait of an illustr

A" New York Times" Notable Book of 2012
"Gripping and revelatory ... There is much that is new in Bair s book, and Steinberg emerges from her account as a paradigmatic 20th-century exile and traveler, crossing and recrossing fixed boundary lines in both his life and his work... Steinberg certainly produced his share of classics, and in the process he helped pave the way for a culture of boundary-blurrers ...He showed that literature can be created without using a single sentence."
Deborah Solomon, "The New York Times Book Review
""A meticulously researched and soberly written portrait revealing an artist whose personality was both more troubled and more troubling than his fans would have ever imagined ... A tour de force of biographical craftsmanship."
"The Wall Street Journal
""The pre-eminent "New Yorker" cartoonist leads a life worthy of his own ironic art in this scintillating biography ... Steinberg emerges asa tangle of neurotic contradictions ... Bair's long and amply researched biography unfolds in a graceful prose that's stocked with absurdist scenes and colorful characters ... Her breezy writing works subtly and slyly to unearth psychological depths beneath that amusing surface of the Steinbergian picaresque."
"Publishers Weekly," starred and boxed review
"With this enthralling and exhaustive biography, Deirdre Bair traces the first complete portrait of the private, astringent (and now formerly) inscrutable artist/cartoonist in a nonjudgmental manner, all the while gaping at the famous friendships, expansive career, and, most surprisingly, messy affairs that Steinberg so peripatetically and painfully inhabited. Steinberg was not only the most twentieth century of twentieth century artists, but also one of the most flabbergasting."
Chris Ware, cartoonist
"Does his reading "Huck Finn" in an Italian concentration camp, his belief that Cyrillic looks like sneezes, his TV commercial for Jell-O, or the hunch that Mickey Mouse was black explain Saul Steinberg?Not entirely, but Deirdre Bair does the rest, in her sensitive, stylish portrait of an American original.A rich, sparkling joy of a book."
Stacy Schiff, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of "Cleopatra"
"The definitive portrait of an illustrator, an artist, who created some of the defining images of the 20th Century. Bair has written the enchanting and illuminating biography that Steinberg always deserved."
Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith, Pulitzer Prize-winning authors of "Van Gogh: The Life"
"I thought I knew Saul Steinberg, yet in Deirdre Bair s biography I learned of the extraordinary life, replete with his most intimate musings, this guardedly private man lived. It brought back the unique wit and humanism that make Steinberg one of the towering creative forces of the 20th Century."
Francoise Mouly, Art Editor, "The New Yorker"
"[Full of] fresh revelations ... A comprehensive and engaging biography."
"The Boston Globe""

About the Author

DEIRDRE BAIR received the National Book Award for "Samuel Beckett: A Biography." Her biographies of Simone de Beauvoir and Carl Jung were finalists for the "Los Angeles Times" Book Prize. Her biographies of Simone de Beauvoir andAnais Ninwere chosen by "The New York Times" as Best Book of the Year (Beauvoir) and Notable Book of the Year (Nin)."

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
It is a good book, based on good research but the overview is too simplistic and biased toward the opinions of Steinberg's wife. Reading it feels like reading a gossip column. The picture the book paints of Steinberg does not match his artistic reputation as an outstanding artist.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: HASH(0x917b71a4) out of 5 stars 14 reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x91526dc8) out of 5 stars Incredible Book about an Incredible Man 16 Mar. 2013
By Joseph Landes - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I picked up Saul Steinberg after seeing it on the NY Times 100 Notable Books of 2012 and I really am glad I did as I didn't know much about Steinberg other than he was the famous cartoonist for The New Yorker but after reading this very comprehensive biography, I now have much grater insight into who he was and the impact he had on the world of art, cartooning, and graphics. One thing I will say about this book however--it is loooong. Very long. And there are parts that might just make you say "wow why do we need this level of detail." That said, it is a biography and it does take you through every aspect of Steinberg's life-the good, bad, and totally weird.

Steinberg was born in Romania and like others of his time was subjected to punishing oppression and anti-Semitism. He persevered and got out of Romania right on time. He went through his schooling, ended up in a variety of camps where he also seemed to escape what could have been a much worse situation and ended up in the US where he began his career as an artist and a cartoonist. The book goes on to talk about his marriage to another artist Hette, his separation from her and long-time romance with another woman for a period of 35 years, his constant stream of girlfriends and dalliances, and his eventual death. One thing I learned about Steinberg from this book is that he was in many ways not a super nice guy. He constantly berated people whom he felt were beneath him, he treated women mostly horribly, and he was extremely self-centered. That said, he also supported many relatives, friends, and his parents in Romania for almost his entire life. He sent constant streams of money and bought appliances for them. There was hardly a Jewish or Israeli charity he did not support. He did not view himself as a religious man at all--but did fast on Yom Kippur. He was quite a complicated man. He was rich beyond what his wildest dreams must have been as a young man. And his contribution to the world of art was almost unparalleled in its diversity and richness. I found the book to be a bit too long. I thought the author could have accomplished what she wanted to accomplish with a bit less detail. Overall though it was a very interesting read and I do recommend it.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x91526450) out of 5 stars Disappointing 3 April 2013
By Isabella Stone - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
The main flaw in this biography is that, despite its great length and detailed approach, it just does not bring its subject to life, nor does it make an attempt to describe Romania and its influence on Steinberg's early development and personality. It is a chronicle of facts and dates, and is awkwardly presented, in that there is no list of illustrations--a glaring omission for a book about an artist!--nor is there a list of sources, and one wonders if the author had access to the decades-long correspondence between Steinberg and his best friend, Aldo Buzzi. These letters must have been fairly revealing and it would be nice to know if they were part of the research process. There is a voluminous "Notes" section but after wading through almost 600 pages of text containing much material that could be in an appendix, one is not compelled to look at yet more unimportant details. For comparison, other more successful biographies which come to mind might be Van Gogh: The Life by Naifeh and Smith, Greek Fire by Nicholas Gage about Maria Callas, Diana by Tina Brown, Cheever by Blake Bailey, or Seabiscuit by Lauren Hillenbrand (about a horse!). Each of these authors does an excellent job of "setting the stage" and outlining influences on the books' subjects. In the end, one feels better acquainted with Van Gogh, Callas, Diana, Cheever, and Seabiscuit and what "made them tick." This is not the case with Saul Steinberg, sadly.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x918f8888) out of 5 stars Ist part very interesting, second part could not finish 27 May 2013
By Margaret - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The first part of this story is historically very interesting and I followed this journey of talent and survival around Europe and Asia, all based on his drawings which touched cerebral persons everywhere. Once in the USA, the author mostly lists all his accomplishments week in and out and after a while, we get it. I lost interest and never finished. But the first part is worth the reading.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x91aa312c) out of 5 stars Highly Interesting Artist In A Long Long Tale 19 April 2013
By disco75 - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
A mammoth read that covers everything factual pertaining to Steinberg, this bio conveys the timeline of the talented and frustrating man. His life contained a good deal of drama, both the sort that stems from his living through the European years he did, the US military experiences, NY during its ascendance as world art capital; and also the drama wrought by his contradictory personality and the wild characters he drew into his orbit. The outrageous events and behaviors (too many to list here) are on display, albeit tactfully so in Bair's lucid prose. She drew on extensive sources, particularly the diaries of the principals, extensive domestic caches and letter collections, and the archives of the Steinberg and Sterne foundations.

In dealing with so much source material and so many, ahem, colorful behaviors, a biographer faces numerous choices in putting some sort of order to the vignettes and facts. Bair's book straddles the line between general biography (readability) and historian's record (completeness). At 600 pages of narrative and 130 pages of notes, perhaps it errs on the side of excessive inclusiveness. She avoids character analysis and most art analysis, sticking to a neutral, descriptive tone. This is both a strength and, for me, a weakness. We're left with unanswered ideas about Steinberg and about his art. Many times important habits are brought up well after their commencement, categorically mentioned romances, friendships, or work undertakings that have a reader reconsidering what went by prior in the book. As an example, Steinberg is described as a talented gambler who could have been a professional-- a remark made by the author when she is depicting him in his mid60s.

Readers will want this as a paperback or ebook. It currently is oversized and so hefty it will annoy and cause numbness as much as certain biographies did for cranky Steinberg the voracious reader. The wide format was not necessary for the image reproductions and a denser typeface would slim the volume.

Overall, a detailed but welcome addition to the spate of biographies of the last two decades that reveal the complexity of artistic temperaments. Although the biographer in this case leaves the personality and the productions of the subject uncategorized, both the man and the art are sufficiently fascinating to make the book a recommended one. The bonus is that it also contains what amounts to a biography of the great painter Hedda Sterne, who for whatever reason has not been portrayed in a book.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x915264e0) out of 5 stars An icon of American art 28 Jan. 2013
By John Montgomery - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
My initial familiarity with Steinberg started with the purchase of a framed copy of "that poster" (View of the World from 9th Avenue) soon after he created it in 1976. Steinberg was known as "a writer who draws" and most of his pieces require extensive study to comprehend them fully.
Perhaps 15 years later I became enamored with The New Yorker magazine and began to learn of its storied history. I've been a faithful subscriber and have absorbed several books ("About Town" by Ben Yagoda and personal reminiscences by staff members Brendan Gill, Lillian Ross, James Thurber and Renata Adler). Steinberg makes cameo appearances in all of those works - and for good reason. Steinberg designed 89 New Yorker covers over a six-decade span, earning Adam Gopnik's tribute that he was the greatest artist ever associated with the magazine, one known almost as much for its pictures as its prose.
But as you would expect, Deirdre Bair's tome (700-plus pages, including more than 100 pages of footnotes) goes much deeper than Steinberg's interaction with hallowed editors Harold Ross and William Shawn. She spent about five years researching and writing it, gaining access to his personal papers from his foundation and interviewing scores of Steinberg's friends, including his wife of more than 50 years, Hedda Sterne, a decorated artist in her own right. Even though Saul and Hedda separated in 1960, they never divorced and had almost daily contact for the rest of his life. (Steinberg died in 1999.)
Favorable reviews of this book in the New York Review of Books and the New Yorker piqued my interest. It took me nearly a month to digest its rich detail, but it was worth the time. Forty-seven bite-size chapters make it easy to read in segments.
Steinberg's escape from Nazi-occupied Europe is movie material in itself. Steinberg's artistic talent is undeniable (he considered Pablo Picasso and himself to be the greatest artists of the 20th century). Furthermore, Steinberg had some fascinating habits - he was a notorious womanizer who juggled countless longstanding affairs and brief flings simultaneously, a generous bloke who supported dozens of relatives after he found his niche in America, a compulsive traveler both internationally and nationally whose antidote for creative block was to pick up and go -- anywhere, and a pack rat who immersed himself in regular visits to flea markets.
Steinberg kept and documented everything, which amounts to a biographer's dream. He also fabricated stories for interviewers, a biographer's nightmare. How Steinberg earned, spent, shared and invested his money is detailed in a style an accountant would appreciate.
Some of Bair's detail amounts to ridiculous minutiae (picking up a silly hat and a tie he really didn't like during one shopping spree), but for the most part, this book is compelling. Especially if you admire a great icon of American art -- and his signature magazine.
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