The Women Who Made an Art of Having an Opinion
By Michelle Dean
Sharp tells the riveting stories of the fiercely intelligent, glamorous and iconoclastic twentieth-century women who made their way to Manhattan to forge spectacular literary careers, from Dorothy Parker to Joan Didion.
A BBC Radio 4 Book of the Week
'This is such a great idea for a book, and Michelle Dean carries it off, showing us the complexities of her fascinating, extraordinary subjects, in print and out in the world. Dean writes with vigor, depth, knowledge and absorption, and as a result Sharp is a real achievement' Meg Wolitzer, New York Times
Dorothy Parker, Hannah Arendt, Mary McCarthy, Susan Sontag, Joan Didion, Nora Ephron and Janet Malcolm are just some of the women whose lives intertwined as they cut through twentieth-century cultural and intellectual life in the United States, arguing as fervently with each other as they did with the men who so often belittled their work as journalists, novelists, critics and poets. These women are united by their 'sharpness': an accuracy and precision of thought and wit, a claiming of power through their writing.
Sharp is a rich and lively portrait of these women and their world, where Manhattan cocktail parties, fuelled by lethal quantities of both alcohol and gossip, could lead to high-stakes slanging matches in the Partisan Review or the New York Review of Books. It is fascinating and revealing on how these women came to be so influential in a climate in which they were routinely met with condescension and derision by their male counterparts.
Michelle Dean mixes biography, criticism and cultural and social history to create an enthralling exploration of how a group of brilliant women became central figures in the world of letters, staked out territory for themselves and began to change the world.
Michelle Dean is a journalist, critic and the recipient of the National Book Critics Circle's 2016 Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing. A contributing editor at the New Republic, she has written for the New Yorker, Nation, New York Times Magazine, Slate, New York Magazine, Elle and BuzzFeed. She lives in New York City.
- Other details
- Publication date:
23 Apr 2018
- Page count:
There can't be enough cultural histories which make the point that a woman intellectual must represent her own mind, and not the collective mind of all her 'sisters.' Sharp is a brisk, entertaining, well-researched reminder that it's impossible to write - or think - without making life very messy for oneself, but to do so is an achievement well worth the pains — Sheila Heti, author of How Should A Person Be?
I have to recommend Michelle Dean's Sharp: The Women Who Made an Art of Having an Opinion, a delicious cultural history that comes out in April. It brings together some of the most influential social critics of the 20th century, including Dorothy Parker, Mary McCarthy, Hannah Arendt, Susan Sontag and Joan Didion, and shows how these glamorous iconoclasts forged their singular careers. Dean makes the convincing argument that women's voices--if not necessarily feminist ones--did far more to define the last century's intellectual life than we realize — Michelle Goldberg, New York Times
[A] stunning and highly accessible introduction to a group of important writers — Publishers Weekly
Michelle Dean has delivered an exquisite examination - both rigorous and compassionate - of what it has meant to be a woman with a public voice and the power to use it critically. This book is ferociously good — Rebecca Traister, New York Times-bestselling author of All the Single Ladies
This is such a great idea for a book, and Michelle Dean carries it off, showing us the complexities of her fascinating, extraordinary subjects, in print and out in the world. Dean writes with vigor, depth, knowledge and absorption, and as a result Sharp is a real achievement — Meg Wolitzer, author of The Female Persuasion
This is a great and worthy project: a primer for those for whom these names are new; a sustaining reminder for those already familiar with them. You put it down feeling steadier, more determined — Rachel Cooke, Observer
Michelle Dean's Sharp, a portrait of 10 female writers and thinkers, is a bracing tribute to the life of the iconoclastic mind: a reminder, in our age of flashy hot takes, of the matchless power of sustained and elegant argument — Pankaj Mishra, Guardian
A fascinating analysis of brilliant female writers. By the end you'll want to read something by all of them — Evening Standard