The definitive portrait of one of the American Century’s most towering intellectuals: her writing and her radical thought, her public activism and her hidden private face
No writer is as emblematic of the American twentieth century as Susan Sontag. Mythologized and misunderstood, lauded and loathed, a girl from the suburbs who became a proud symbol of cosmopolitanism, Sontag left a legacy of writing on art and politics, feminism and homosexuality, celebrity and style, medicine and drugs, radicalism and Fascism and Freudianism and Communism and Americanism, that forms an indispensable key to modern culture. She was there when the Cuban Revolution began, and when the Berlin Wall came down; in Vietnam under American bombardment, in wartime Israel, in besieged Sarajevo. She was in New York when artists tried to resist the tug of money—and when many gave in. No writer negotiated as many worlds; no serious writer had as many glamorous lovers. Sontag tells these stories and examines the work upon which her reputation was based. It explores the agonizing insecurity behind the formidable public face: the broken relationships, the struggles with her sexuality, that animated—and undermined—her writing. And it shows her attempts to respond to the cruelties and absurdities of a country that had lost its way, and her conviction that fidelity to high culture was an activism of its own.
Utilizing hundreds of interviews conducted from Maui to Stockholm and from London to Sarajevo—and featuring nearly one hundred images—Sontag is the first book based on the writer’s restricted archives, and on access to many people who have never before spoken about Sontag, including Annie Leibovitz. It is a definitive portrait—a great American novel in the form of a biography.
About the Author
Benjamin Moser was born in Houston. He is the author of Why This World: A Biography of Clarice Lispector, a finalist for the National Book Critics' Circle Award and a New York Times Notable Book. For his work bringing Clarice Lispector to international prominence, he received Brazil’s first State Prize for Cultural Diplomacy. He has published translations from French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Dutch. A former books columnist for Harper's Magazine and The New York Times Book Review,he has also written for The New Yorker, Conde Nast Traveler, and The New York Review of Books.
“A landmark achievement—astonishing in its scope, brilliant in its perceptiveness, and a joy to read. It deserves to be counted among the best nonfiction books of 2019.” — Jewish Book Council
“Don’t be fooled by the length. This book is compulsive reading: moving, maddening, ridiculous and beautiful scenes from the life of Susan Sontag, and the epochs she traversed. Moser has a true and deep love for his subject, a love unafraid to be truthful, and it shows.” — Rachel Kushner, author of The Flamethrowers
“If it’s already difficult to imagine American culture without Susan Sontag’s contributions to it, it may soon become difficult to imagine her life without Benjamin Moser’s account of it. A significant life like Sontag’s demands a significant biography. That demand has now been incisively, extravagantly met.” — Michael Cunningham, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Hours
“Moser’s accomplishment here is breathtaking: it includes an extraordinary knowledge of the subject, her milieu, her writings, her ideas, and her friends and family, beautiful prose, extraordinary insights, a capacity to understand her driven emotional life and her stellar intellectual life.” — Rebecca Solnit, author of Call Them By Their True Names and Men Explain Things to Me
“An astonishing page-turner, the last word on Susan Sontag. I can’t imagine the necessity of another book about her life.” — Sigrid Nunez, author of The Friend
“Sontag’s influence on aesthetics, writing and the wider culture is almost impossible to overstate and Moser’s monumental biography reveals the surprisingly tender, insecure, and intellectually dedicated story of one the most remarkable literary figures of twentieth century America. She stands reclaimed for our century in this definitive, fiercely intelligent work.” — Stephen Fry, author of The Ode Less Travelled
“Sontag made and broke the mold of American twentieth century public intellectual. In this long-awaited, brilliant biography, Moser shows us how to read Sontag—and, by extension, her times—and reveals the extents and limits of her genius. His psychologically nuanced critical study is written with sang-froid and compassion.” — Chris Kraus, author of After Kathy Acker and I Love Dick
“Moser brings his iconic subject to life in this gripping, insightful and supremely stylish biography… revealing at every turn the vital, complicated, imperfect human being behind the formidable public intellectual.” — Edmund Gordon, author of The Invention of Angela Carter: A Biography
“A comprehensive, intimate—and surely definitive—biography of writer, provocateur, and celebrity intellectual Susan Sontag . . . Sympathetic and sharply astute . . . A nuanced, authoritative portrait of a legendary artist.” — Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Who better than distinguished critic Moser, National Book Critics Circle finalist for Why This World: A Biography of Clarice Lispector, to write a biography of Susan Sontag?” — Library Journal (starred review)