RaveThe New York Times Book Review... masterly ... For readers partial to the daring rebel who wrote poems like The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,Preludes and The Waste Land, the trajectory this book traces may feel a bit dispiriting, like watching a favorite punk musician turn into a Lawrence Welk fan fond of Fox News. But Crawford is an excellent guide to the intense personal pressures and cultural forces that fueled the dramatic transformations Eliot underwent in the wake of The Waste Land ... Drawing on revelatory new material, Crawford provides a lively, illuminating narrative of the poet’s long second act ... Although there have been several important earlier accounts of Eliot’s life (including Lyndall Gordon’s superb 1998 biography), Crawford’s book is invaluable because it is the first to draw upon a gold mine that scholars have been dying to get their hands on for the past half-century — an archive of 1,131 letters that Eliot wrote to Emily Hale, an American woman he first fell in love with as a young graduate student ... Crawford handles this extraordinary, soap-operatic story with sensitivity and aplomb ... To his credit, Crawford does not shy away from the uglier, \'rebarbative aspects of his psyche\' that have long been apparent — especially the misogyny, racism and antisemitism that run through Eliot’s life and work like diseased, cancerous tissue ... Tackling the poet’s contradictions head on, this book gives us a keenly nuanced, three-dimensional portrait of Eliot, warts and all ... Weaving together an enormous amount of material in exhaustive, sometimes exhausting detail, Crawford’s magisterial biography provides the fullest account to date of how Eliot transmuted his messy life and private struggles into art. Eliot may have strenuously promoted the influential argument that \'it is not in his personal emotions, the emotions provoked by particular events in his life, that the poet is in any way remarkable or interesting,\' but readers of this fascinating, indispensable book will surely disagree.
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewRoffman’s decision to focus solely on Ashbery’s youth pays off, however, because this crucial period of Ashbery’s life has been little explored or understood, and because she manages to fill in the familiar but vague outlines with such rich and fascinating detail gleaned from exhaustive research — especially her deep dive into unpublished early poems, newly uncovered diaries and extensive interviews with Ashbery himself. The result is a treasure trove for scholars, fans and casual readers alike ... Like a classic bildungsroman, The Songs We Know Best tells the story of a shy, sensitive, preternaturally gifted boy who weathers a lonely childhood on a farm, awakens to the joys and mysteries of art, poetry and sex as a teenager, and finally assumes his true vocation as a poet when he arrives in the big city and falls in with a circle of revolutionary writers and artists. It is also an affecting narrative about growing up gay in a virulently hostile, intolerant culture — a moving portrait of an artist who not only survived that ordeal as a young man but became, improbably enough, one of the greatest poets of his age.