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The Life of Kingsley Amis

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The eagerly-awaited authorised biography of Kingsley Amis.

About the Author

Zachary Leader is Professor of English Literature at Roehampton University. His books include On Modern British Fiction (2002) and Revision and Romantic Authorship (1999). His editing of Kingley Amis's Letters was described as 'omniscient' by John Carey in the Sunday Times, 'wondrously thorough' by Ian Hamilton in the LRB, and 'exemplary' by David Lodge in the TLS.


Leader delivers a scrupulously researched and unfailingly entertaining account of the life of one of postwar Britain's funniest and most famous writers. Amis (1922-1995) asserted that many writers lead dull lives, but his was especially high-spirited, particularly once he left his restrictive parents for Oxford and beyond. Known first as a poet, Amis began an academic career in Wales at University College of Swansea after marrying Hilary Bardwell (mother of his three children, including contemporary British writer Martin Amis), but his springboard to literary celebrity was the 1954 publication of the comic classic Lucky Jim. Leader (editor, 2001's The Letters of Kingsley Amis) combines exhaustive biographical detail with trenchant literary analysis for a complex, remarkable portrait of Amis and his work: his prodigious output (more than 40 books, including novels, poetry, anthologies and nonfiction), his notorious womanizing and boozing as well as his friendships, including his central relationship (illuminated by lively excerpts of correspondence) with poet Philip Larkin. This massive, splendid biography bears out Leader's contention that Amis was "a compelling person, a man of alarming appetites and energies, the funniest man most people had ever met, or the cleverest, or the rudest." 24 pages of b&w photos not seen by PW. (Apr.) Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.

Leader has surpassed himself... he gives us not only the man, but also his milieu; he gives us not only the compelling virtues but also the staggering flaws. This is the best biography I have read for ages: deeply researched, crisply written and beautifully judged -- Dominic Sandbrook * Daily Telegraph *
Very thorough and very straight-talking. It's also very clear in its aims...He displays the facts of each matter plainly, allowing the reader to deliver their own praise and blame, and counterbalances them with his attention to the work. It's an impressively well-judged response -- Andrew Motion * Guardian *
Marvellous...It has become a fashion to denounce long biographies as telling us more than we need to know, but Leader's is a triumphant vindication of its 900-plus pages. It's a pleasure to read, and the accumulation of detail gives a real sense of a life being led -- Jeremy Lewis * Independent *
This is a book of true stature about a complex talent. Few literary biographies can match it for depth and intimacy -- John Carey * Sunday Times *
Marvellous...I ought to say that this book is 200 pages too long, but as I enjoyed almost every word of it, I can't -- Ferdinand Mount * Spectator *

Leader's (English, Univ. of Roehampton, U.K.; editor, The Letters of Kingsley Amis) biography of novelist, poet, essayist, and journalist Kingsley Amis (1922-95) was authorized by the subject's son, Martin Amis, an acclaimed novelist in his own right. It considerably expands on Eric Jacobs's Kingsley Amis (1995), which was authorized by the writer himself. Leader examines chronologically the life and works of this major British novelist, emphasizing how Amis incorporated episodes from his life and aspects of his family and friends' personalities into his writing. Amis lived his life with gusto, and Leader details the author's excesses in regard to alcohol and sex. The biographer shows his appreciation of the writer's achievements and outsized personality, but he does not hesitate to show Amis's less admirable traits, reflected in the racist and sexist quotes he enunciated throughout his life (though these may have been part of the curmudgeon persona Amis assumed before friends and strangers). Its long length may deter casual readers, but this is an essential biography for Amis admirers. For larger academic and public libraries. (Photographs, notes, bibliography, and index not seen.)--Morris Hounion, New York City Coll. of Technology Lib., CUNY Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.

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