From the reviews of this book I was expecting something fairly weighty and scholarly. I was therefore somewhat disappointed to find that it is quite short and that a significant proportion of it is taken up with what I can only describe as padding, namely descriptions of Ms Jasanoff's travels, ostensibly to retrace Conrad's journeys but which seem to have little or no bearing on the subject, extensive plot summaries of some of Conrad's major works (superfluous if you have already read the books and a spoiler if you have not) and indecipherable reproductions of original maps.
The book starts with a biographical account of Conrad's early life and background and then mainly proceeds to look at what are regarded as his four major works (i.e. Secret Agent, Heart of Darkness, Lord Jim and Nostromo) in the context of history and contemporaneous events. The juxtaposition of Conrad's texts on the one hand and actual events on the other is quite enlightening and interesting but there is scant biographical depth, detail or analysis and one learns little about the details of Conrad's life, or his character and attitudes that are not readily apparent from his writings. For example, criticisms of his writing style and accusations of racism and antisemitism, Conrad's mental and physical illnesses and his difficult relationship with his eldest son are all mentioned but are not explored in any depth. A "definitive biography" it is most certainly not.
For all that, the book is enjoyable and often interesting to read provided that one does not expect too much of it. My main regret is that it has the basic elements for being a really good book but does not go anywhere near far enough in terms of depth, detail and analysis.
Best book about Conrad that I have read, and I have read several as Conrad has been one of my favourite writers for fifty years. The way in which the author places Conrad in the context of his times and analyses his understanding of issues like colonialism, terrorism, globalisation and mass migration is brilliant. The author brings a historians perspective to Conrad's life rather than that of a literary critic.
The comparison between the selected novels, historical fact and Conrad's own experiences is well done and informative, although be warned that so much detail is given about the novels it may well spoil any reading of them for anyone new to the work. At times I found it easy to forget if I was reading about the novel or the actual historic accounts, which I mention as a positive rather than negative point. Biographical detail is good as far as it goes, but I had hoped for much more information in that respect. An easy book to read, but having read so many excellent reviews I was left rather disappointed and I feel the need to turn to one of the older biographies of which there are several.
This story is weaving the life of Joseph Conrad into the bigger perspective, such as the birth of globalization. It leaves you with a new perception that events taking place today (like terrorism, refugees, globalization etc) are perhaps not so unique as you might believe.