...[a] fascinating memoir ... As Shroder vividly tells the story of this larger-than-life writer who was a generous and often doting grandfather, he contemplates the fleeting nature of fame ... Kantor’s story is fascinating — a biographical gold mine and an object lesson in the ultimate fading away of the best-selling, prize-winning success many writers dream about ... the third and most compelling story in the book is that of Shroder’s struggle with writing ... In writing a history that is also a meditation on writing, Shroder has created a book that is as useful as it is fascinating.
It’s the author’s reaction to what he finds that gives the book its deeper resonance ... There’s a palpable sadness that runs through The Most Famous Writer Who Ever Lived. Some of it is the natural consequence of painful discovery, of finding out more about those closest to you than you might want to know, or should know — affairs, transgressions, betrayals and tragedies of every suit. And it’s in that part of the telling that you start to feel a shift, a greater empathy, a deeper appreciation for his grandfather by Shroder and a more enlightened view of himself.
Shroder is a skillful writer and has good raw material ... The book doesn’t start well. Shroder tries too hard, using too many words, to find parallels in his life with his grandfather’s life...Later, Shroder tightens things up, and the book develops into a deeply interesting examination of the threads connecting Shroder, his grandfather and even his great-grandfather.
Shroder weaves together a fascinating portrait through the use of family lore, boots-on-the-ground investigative journalism, dusty research, and a solid dose of flesh-and-blood familial feeling for his subject and those closest to him ... If part of Shroder’s aim in writing this memoir is to resurrect his grandfather’s literary legacy, I’ll gladly report that it worked for me. I’ve now read Andersonville, and plan to go back for more. Thanks to Tom Shroder for re-introducing the world to MacKinlay Kantor.