It is a tribute to the subtlety of John Matteson's sympathetic, compelling and at times very funny book that we are left, like many of Bronson's contemporaries, unsure what to make of him ... A double biography is a difficult thing to bring off but Matteson does it beautifully, giving a vivid but delicate account of two complicated characters inextricably entwined. The balance of his narrative tips naturally from father to daughter as Louisa emerges from Bronson's shadow, though never from his influence.
In Eden's Outcasts, Matteson pays assiduous attention to detail (over a thousand footnotes!) and offers perceptive literary critiques. Nonetheless, this book should have appeal beyond academia. Bronson Alcott and Louisa May Alcott may be larger-than-life personas in the history of American letters, but this engaging dual biography points out how thoroughly human they were.
This double biography of Bronson and Louisa Alcott necessarily skews toward Bronson’s life, a long 86 years compared to Louisa’s 56. And though Pulitzer Prize winner John Matteson does an excellent job enlivening his subjects, Bronson Alcott was an utterly exasperating man ... Matteson goes into great detail about Concord, New Hampshire and the thinkers who lived there during the last half of the 1800s ... Matteson takes great pains to draw connections between father and daughter: their identical birthdays, their writing, their deaths ... While the comparisons can seem forced, there is no question that their deaths were uncanny ... Author John Matteson won the Pulitzer Prize for this book, and deservedly so. The depth and scope of his research is admirable. Yet he occasionally falls prey to applying modern-day interpretations to events that transpired over a century ago ... But this is a minor quibble in an otherwise fine and often moving biography.
...Matteson so adeptly builds a riveting double portrait of two exceptional Americans and abolitionists ... Making penetrating use of primary sources, Matteson gracefully interprets an astounding family drama of compassion and creativity, folly and courage, deprivation and mental instability ... Matteson’s lucid, commanding biography casts new light on an unusual father-daughter bond and a new land at war with itself.
...[Matteson] allows readers to glimpse both the minds of these two literary figures and the times in which they lived. Matteson succinctly covers major events in his subjects' lives ... Adding another dimension to his portrayal is his concise and perceptive analysis of both Alcotts' literary works. Matteson's graceful style and careful scholarship confirm his premise that the two were indeed 'Eden's outcasts... for both, life was a persistent but failed quest for perfection.' Highly recommended.
...Matteson...views both father and daughter with a sympathy that doesn’t quite conceal the book’s slightly specious premise ... This is really a biography of the whole Alcott family, though it narrows to a dual portrait after the wild success of Little Women in 1868[.]
Matteson shows all facets of Bronson’s character: his fierce work ethic, his feckless financial ways (the Alcotts were perennially saved from ruin by the kindnesses of friends), his loyalty to his family ... Matteson capably describes Louisa’s feverish devotion to her family and to her writing, the failures in love, the struggles to succeed that came to fruition with the publication of Little Women, her subsequent celebrity, travels and literary triumphs. Carefully researched and sensitively written. Essential.