Item description for Albert Camus: A Biography by Herbert R. Lottman...
When Albert Camus died in a car crash in January 1960 he was only 46 years old - already a winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature and a world figure - author of the enigmatic The Stranger, the fable called The Plague, but also of the combative The Rebel - which attacked the 'politically correct' among his contemporaries.
Thanks to his early literary achievement, his work for the underground newspaper Combat and his editorship of that daily in its Post-Liberation incarnation, Camus' voice seemed the conscience of postwar France. But it was a very personal voice that rejected the conventional wisdom, rejected ideologies that called for killing in the cause of justice. His call for personal responsibility will seem equally applicable today, when Camus' voice is silent and has not been replaced. The secrecy which surrounded Algerian-born Camus' own life, public and private - a function of illness and psychological self-defense in a Paris in which he still felt himself a stranger - seemed to make the biographer's job impossible.
Lottman's Albert Camus was the first and remains the definitive biography - even in France. On publication it was hailed by New York Times reviewer John Leonard: "What emerges from Mr. Lottman's tireless devotions is a portrait of the artist, the outsider, the humanist and skeptic, that breaks the heart." In The New York Times Book Review British critic John Sturrock said: Herbert Lottman's life (of Camus) is the first to be written, either in French or English, and it is exhaustive, a labor of love and of wonderful industry." When the book appeared in London Christopher Hitchens in New Statesman told British readers: "Lottman has written a brilliant and absorbing book... The detail and the care are extraordinary... Now at last we have a clear voice about the importance of liberty and the importance of being concrete." The new edition by Gingko Press includes a specially written preface by the author revealing the challenges of a biographer, of some of the problems that had to be dealt with while writing the book and after it appeared.
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Reviews - What do customers think about Albert Camus: A Biography?
An admirable effort misses the forest for the trees May 14, 2006
A long time ago, I started trying to think somewhat seriously about whether life without God had any meaning. A friend pointed me to Camus' The Myth of Sisyphus. So I read it - twice actually. And I went on to read The Stranger, The Plague and even The Rebel. I found in those books some powerful passages (and in the case of The Plague, a pretty good story) and considerable evidence that their author was a decent man, writing in indecent times. But to be honest, Camus' underlying message eluded me. I found his philosophical musings needlessly complicated. Why, for example, does he start The Myth of Sisyphus by asking whether life's absurdity demands suicide? Surely, the survival instinct alone renders the question meaningless; not to mention the possibility of experiencing earthly pleasure. Isn't a better question - the one I wanted answered anyway - how, not whether, to live in a world with no God watching over us? But I wasn't ready to give up on Camus. So I picked up this biography in search of clarity. I didn't get it. Lottman is no better at explaining Camus' philosophy (to me) than Camus himself. Take this Camus line, transcribed as if it were self-evident: "There is only one case in which despair is pure. It is that of a man sentenced to die.'' Huh? What about a parent who loses a child? What about a man or woman betrayed by someone they love? Is their despair somehow different from "pure despair"? And if so, does it matter? Lottman does do a valuable service in compiling the details of Camus' life. He is a relentless searcher of truth, separating fact from myth, getting the dates right, admitting when the evidence is unclear. It's yeoman's work, and deserves praise. And he makes a long story readable. His feisty preface to this new edition is a wonderful rebuke to those who supported Stalin's butchery and condemned Camus (who, as an earlier this site review nicely put it, had the good fortune to be "hated by idiots.") But Lottman sometimes doesn't see the forest for the trees and doesn't always put Camus' activities in a context that gives them meaning - assuming, apparently, that the reader already understands the backdrop. For example, I still don't totally understand the Camus-Sartre split, though Lottman tells us the names of the cafes and magazines in which it played out. In summary, this is a valuable book for Camus scholars and those already grounded in his philosophy. For the rest of us, the search continues.
reiterating what has already been said Nov 5, 2005
i agree with both comments below. lottman did an excellent job in his research. and ,at times, he seems to hesitate to cut out all the extra detail that makes it an unnecessarily long read. but i really have to commend him for the work he did. you can find any information you need if you're doing research on camus, all you have to do is look a little.
what i most enjoyed, however, was the feel of lottman's writing. you can just tell that lottman knows his subject and has the right kind of passionate drive to deliver the biography.
This is the Single Best Camus Biography Dec 19, 2000
I think I most love this magnificent book because the chilly reception it has received mirrors the deeply ironic incivility the French elite reserved for Camus himself. One can love Camus for his words, his insight, and his passion, but I think I love him most for the fact that he was hated by idiots. It is this theme that runs throughout Lottman's wonderful biography, and it also seems to describe to an extent Lottman's own experience.
For nearly the last quarter of Camus's short life, he lived in disfavor amongst the Paris literati. And for what? Because he, virtually alone amongst French intellectuals, recognized early on the horror that was the true nature of the regime of Joseph Stalin(socialism being virtually an article of faith with the likes of Sartre and others in France at the time).
Lottman himself seems to have had a rather similar experience in his publication of this book. As he points out in his preface to this second edition, a cottage industry has evolved in France and elsewhere in Camus scholarship and criticism. However, though that body of work is deeply indebted to Lottman's research, his preeminent role is rarely acknowledged. I think this is probably because, like Camus, Lottman is an outsider. Neither man was a French native (Camus was an Algerian of mixed French-Spanish descent, Lottman is an American expatriate living in Paris) and neither is an academic by trade (Camus was a newspaper editor, novelist and a man of the theatre, while Lottman is a journalist). Thus, Lottman has seemed at times as unwelcome amongst the French elite as Camus did himself. Again the irony is too much; Lottman has received comparatively little recognition even though he himself is an extremely important cornerstone of current Camus research.
Anyway, this book for whatever reason has received little more attention here in the United States than it has gotten anywhere else, and I think that is a shame. It is a wonderful, readable book. Most importantly, it is non-judgmental and it is very deferential. By that I mean that Lottman nowehere preaches to us how we should understand Camus; as he himself says, the essence of an artist is not in his biography, but in his works. It is long, but has only that level of detail befitting an intellectual biography of this caliber.
For anyone who really wants to understand Camus's literature, a thorough understanding of his life--like Lottman's--is priceless.
Very thorough, but gets bogged down with detail May 2, 1999
Although an accomplished and thorough book, it sometimes get bogged down in detail. However, it is a very carefully compiled and analytical book. Good selection of pictures and details of others artists in Camus' life. I enjoyed it greatly.