When this second volume of The Life of Saul Bellow opens, Bellow, at forty-nine, is at the pinnacle of American letters – rich, famous, critically acclaimed. The expected trajectory is one of decline: volume 1, rise; volume 2, fall. Bellow never fell, producing some of his greatest fiction (Mr Sammler’s Planet, Humboldt’s Gift, all his best stories), winning two more National Book Awards, a Pulitzer Prize, and the Nobel Prize. At eighty, he wrote his last story; at eighty-five, he wrote Ravelstein. In this volume, his life away from the desk, including his love life, is if anything more dramatic than in volume 1. In the public sphere, he is embroiled in controversy over foreign affairs, race, religion, education, social policy, the state of culture, the fate of the novel.

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