For all the richness of Siegel’s insights, at times he tries too hard...But for the most part, Siegel’s Groucho Marx is trenchant and provocative. I would join any club that has this book in its library.
This is what explicitly distinguishes this book from previous Marx biographies: In Siegel’s hands, the details of Groucho’s life are less interesting than the broader literary argument that they illustrate, which Groucho would have found both deeply validating and kind of annoying. To any literarily or philosophically inclined Groucho fan, however, the book is a luminous delight.
Numerous biographies, of course, have been written about Groucho and his comic troupe, but Siegel, a widely published cultural critic, is after something different in his short book. Part of Yale University Press’ Jewish Lives series, it offers an astute psychological profile of the man whose biting, nihilistic comedy broke so many barriers, just as dramatically as the mirror in that scene was smashed.