Jonathan Swift


You are viewing an older version of the Yalebooks website. Please visit out new website with more updated information and a better user experience:

His Life and His World

Leo Damrosch

View Inside Format: Paper
Price: $22.00
Our shopping cart only supports Mozilla Firefox. Please ensure you're using that browser before attempting to purchase.

Also Available in:

Winner of the 2013 National Book Critics Circle Award in Biography:  The life of satirist Jonathan Swift, written by a master biographer and leading scholar of eighteenth-century literature

“Superb. . . . Damrosch’s outstanding book has raised Swift’s provocative genius to life.”—Jeffrey Collins, Wall Street Journal
Jonathan Swift is best remembered today as the author of Gulliver’s Travels, the satiric fantasy that quickly became a classic and has remained in print for nearly three centuries. Yet Swift also wrote many other influential works, was a major political and religious figure in his time, and became a national hero, beloved for his fierce protest against English exploitation of his native Ireland. What is really known today about the enigmatic man behind these accomplishments? Can the facts of his life be separated from the fictions?
In this deeply researched biography, Leo Damrosch draws on discoveries made over the past thirty years to tell the story of Swift’s life anew. Probing holes in the existing evidence, he takes seriously some daring speculations about Swift’s parentage, love life, and various personal relationships and shows how Swift’s public version of his life—the one accepted until recently—was deliberately misleading. Swift concealed aspects of himself and his relationships, and other people in his life helped to keep his secrets.
Assembling suggestive clues, Damrosch re-narrates the events of Swift’s life while making vivid the sights, sounds, and smells of his English and Irish surroundings.Through his own words and those of a wide circle of friends, a complex Swift emerges: a restless, combative, empathetic figure, a man of biting wit and powerful mind, and a major figure in the history of world letters.
Leo Damrosch is Ernest Bernbaum Research Professor of Literature at Harvard University. He is the author of nine books, including Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Restless Genius, a National Book Award Finalist. He lives in Newton, MA.

“Damrosch’s approach is forensic. . .For me the Swift who emerges from these patient investigations is a more rounded personality.”—George Walden, The Times
‘If Damrosch follows Ehrenpreis in anything, it’s in the ambition, indicated by his ‘life and world’ subtitle, to ground biography in social context. He does that job with efficiency and a sure touch.’—Thomas Keymer, London Review of Books
“Convincing and vivid. . . . Damrosch has . . . let us glimpse the human roots of Swift’s sometimes inhuman irony.”—John Mullan, The Guardian

“Damrosch is incisive about Swift’s personality . . . and writes with fine Swiftian clarity, but does not simplify. He acknowledges that, investigating Swift, you run into a revolving door of contradictions. . . . But Damrosch sees him, rightly, not just as a tragic figure but as a fearless thinker whose works are an antidote to optimism's happy lies.” — John Carey, London Sunday Times

“[Damrosch] writes elegantly, has exactly the right mix of empathy and detachment, and is admirably open-minded in his approach to complex evidence – some of it the product of very new scholarship. . . this will be the definitive life of Swift for years to come.”—Jonathan Bate, New Statesman

“Leo Damrosch conjures up Jonathan Swift with hallucinatory vividness, allowing the contradictions of this baffling, elusive genius full rein. He recovers in rich detail the world in which Gulliver's Travels and other enduring masterpieces were created.  This is a brilliant and humane biography.”—Stephen Greenblatt, author of The Swerve: How the World Became Modern

"Thoroughly researched, vividly written and convincingly argued, Leo Damrosch's new biography of Jonathan Swift more than holds its own among such great predecessors as Walter Scott and Irvin Ehrenpreis, and presents a standard that contemporary scholarly prose is rarely capable of matching."—Robert Mahony, The Catholic University of America

"Immensely enjoyable and fast-paced."—Louis Menand, author of The Metaphysical Club
“An impressive feat of scholarship filled with insightful readings of Swift’s work, as well as extensive illustrations that help to vivify the world of this satiric master.”—Publishers Weekly

This “lively new biography” by “the immensely talented biographer Leo Damrosch” is “piercingly intelligent . . . [and] will surely be the definitive one-volume Swift biography of our time.”—Steve Donoghue, Open Letters Monthly

"A fine biography. . . . Damrosch is an ingenious, learned hypothesizer on matters lost to history and an adept guide to Swift's works. . . . Even Swift's contemporaries were, often enough, not sure what to make of them. One such called Swift 'my hieroglyphic friend.' And that's fine with me. Let the mystery continue, the interpretations and speculations flourish, and the greatest ironist in the English language continue to be read and puzzled over."—Katherine A. Powers, Barnes & Noble Review

“We live in an age when we sorely need a Swift; instead we have Jon Stewart. Modest recompense is to be found in Leo Damrosch’s new life of Swift.”—Lucas Wittmann, The Daily Beast

“A feisty, first-class life of the sage and scourge of English literature. . . . Damrosch is bent on both correcting the record and adding to it, creating a fresh and vivid life even as he wrestles with previous biographers. . . . This is the kind of biography where you come to feel you know the subject personally. A rich and rewarding portrait of an irreplaceable genius.”—Kirkus Reviews, starred review

“[C]onvincing and vivid. . .Damrosch has. . .let us glimpse the human roots of Swift’s sometimes inhuman irony.”—John Mullan, The Guardian

“The enigma of Swift’s life and character continues to tease us. This magisterial biography reminded me how much, in his writings, there is to relish – even outside the mainstream of the great, the immortal, works.”—A. N. Wilson, The Tablet

“Leo Damrosch's. . . wonderful and absorbing biography of Swift . . [is] by far the most balanced, nuanced and persuasive biography of Swift so far. Damrosch is a fine scholar who knows Swift’s works and his age very well indeed. . .It should remind the reader what a wonderful writer Swift is and send us enthusiastically back to the texts – something few biographies ever succeed in doing.”—Andrew Carpenter, Irish Times

'Leo Damrosch has written a conscientious and worthy book, full of meat and handsomely illustrated.'—Paul Johnson, Literary Review

“This comprehensive, engrossing biography seeks to penetrate to the heart of Swift the man, an individual often obscured by his works and religious office. Drawing on a wealth of evidence and sources old and new, Leo Damrosch uncovers the driving force behind Swift’s political polemics; his hatred of injustice; his championship of tolerance; his relationships with the women he gave poetic nicknames; and his literary and satirical legacy; in a fascinating and illuminating work.”—The Good Book Guide
“[The] new biography brings the writer, satirist, pamphleteer, Dean of St Patrick’s Cathedral and author of Gulliver’s Travels to rich and amusing life.”—The Oldie
“An excellent book. Leo Damrosch . . . writes entertainingly and is comfortable with political and philosophical ideas as well as with literary matters."—Michael Dirda, Washington Post
“Damrosch’s tolerance for mystery is one of the outstanding features of his spellbinding biography. . . . Such questions are a sign of scrupulous intellectual integrity. They also deepen Damrosch’s narrative, giving us a visceral sense of biography’s essential tasks, which are not only to solve a life’s puzzles but to remark them. . . . Swift’s passions still burn through Gulliver’s uncanny adventures, and in Damrosch’s exceptional book.”—Marcela Valdes, Critical Mass: The Blog of the National Book Critics Circle
"Damrosch writes with wit and constructs a compelling portrait of the Irish clergyman, whose satires delighted and scandalized eighteenth-century Britain." —New Yorker, "Briefly Noted"
“Masterly in its control, . . . contriving to blend informality with solid argumentation. . . . What Damrosch has given us is superior to anything that has gone before, in . . . a work where everyone will find a fascinating store of information and enjoyment.”—Pat Rogers, New Criterion

“Do read Leo Damrosch’s compelling biography. . . . Here is a book to delight and instruct both the general reader and the specialist. Damrosch masterfully fleshes out the fascinating and complex life of this Anglican clergyman, champion of the oppressed Irish, and brilliant satirist who lived in an age equally fascinating and complex.”—Karen Swallow Prior, Books & Culture

‘Drawing on a wealth of evidence and sources, Leo Damrosch uncovers the driving force behind Swift’s political polemics, his hatred of injustice, his championship of tolerance, his relationships with the women he gave poetic nicknames, and his literary and satirical legacy, in a fascinating and illuminating work.’—The Good Book Guide

“Damrosch invites other scholars into the pages of his book….and he also animates his readers by enlisting them in the discussion.”—Frances Ferguson, Studies in English Literature

“A well written biography in a lively voice with an engaging and plausible portrait of Swift, integrating his strengths and weakness well, bringing him to life.”—James E. May, The Eighteenth-Century Intelligencer
“A lively and pleasurable experience: vigorous, compassionate, occasionally pugnacious, sometimes laugh-out-loud funny. . . . Damrosch’s book, and the centuries-old voices in it, are alive and talking to us.”—Laura Collins-Hughes, Boston Globe
“Damrosch tells this story . . . with great energy and elegantly worn erudition. He restores to Swift the dignity he deserves, reminding us that the really shocking things about him lie not in his life but in his work.”—Fintan O'Toole, New York Review of Books
“[A] commanding new biography . . . Damrosch is gifted with a fluent style, sturdy sense of humor."—John Simon, New York Times Book Review (Editor's Choice)

“[S]uperb. . . . Damrosch’s outstanding book has raised Swift’s provocative genius to life. . . . Damrosch has brought [Swift’s] vision into sharp focus and exposed its disquieting relevance.”—Jeffrey Collins, Wall Street Journal

‘. . .an oxygenated account that blows fresh air on Swift, the most readable account in recent times’ —Brean Hammond, History Today

'The book, far from being a dry academic analysis based on sketchy records, is a romp through the years when Britain became established as a world power. . .Damrosch writes with wry humour and clarity of detail, often cuttingly disputing the theories of previous Swift biographers. To read this hefty book is to get a highly enjoyable education.’—Claire Looby, The Irish Times

A New York Times Notable Book of 2013

A Best Book of 2013, The Daily Beast, literary editor Lucas Wittmann
Received an Honorable Mention for the 2013 American Publishers Awards for Professional and Scholarly Excellence (PROSE), in the Biography & Autobiography category.
Winner of the 2013 National Book Critics Circle Award in the category of Biography.
Columbia University 2014 Pulitzer Prize Finalist in the Biography/Autobiography category.

Finalist for the Biographers International Organization 2014 Plutarch Award for Best Biography of the Year, Selected by other biographers.
ISBN: 9780300205411
Publication Date: August 5, 2014
592 pages, 5 1/2 x 8 1/4
94 b/w illus.
Eternity's Sunrise

The Imaginative World of William Blake

Leo Damrosch

View details
The Club

Johnson, Boswell, and the Friends Who Shaped an Age

Leo Damrosch

View details

The Life and Times of Giacomo Casanova

Leo Damrosch

View details