Robert Lowell, setting the river on fire : a study of genius, mania, and character / Kay Redfield Jamison.

"The best-selling author of An Unquiet Mind now gives us a groundbreaking life of one of the major American poets of the twentieth century that is at the same time a fascinating study of the relationship between manic-depressive (bipolar) illness, creative genius, and character. In his Pulitzer Priz...

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Main Author: Jamison, Kay R.,
Other Authors: Traill, Thomas A.,
Published: New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 2017.
Edition: First edition.
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Review by Choice Review

Jamison (psychiatry, Johns Hopkins Univ. School of Medicine) poses a question in the prologue to her classic first book An Unquiet Mind (1995) by the poet Robert Lowell (1917-77): "Yet why not say what happened?" In the following pages, Jamison discloses her personal battles with manic-depressive illness (bipolar disorder). It is fitting that after writing memoirs, books on understanding suicide and mood disorders, and other works about how mental illness can spark creativity and genius, Jamison focuses on Lowell, who also suffered from bouts of mania and depression. The book under review captures a holistic portrait of a manic-depressive in the 1950s, who also happens to be a revered poet, scholar, and past faculty member at Yale University. Jamison illustrates that Lowell experienced a life filled with uncertainty, admittance to several mental health facilities, therapy, early drug treatments, electroshock therapy, lifestyle changes--all while married, writing, and teaching. This is a work that must be read and consumed slowly. Readers will discover Lowell's poetic complexity, his mental illness, and how both intermingled. This is not a typical biography or source book. A generous selection of personal papers, permitted by Lowell's daughter, include intimate photographs, mental health admittance forms, and enthralling informational details about the life of this poetic master. Summing Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above; faculty and professionals. --Jorge Enrique Perez, Florida International University

Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.
Review by Booklist Review

*Starred Review* Robert Lowell (1917-77) was the most admired and analyzed American poet of his era. He suffered from manic depression, and it defined his life and work. He's the perfect subject for Jamison's (Nothing Was the Same, 2009) superb examination of manic depression and its influence, for good and ill, on creativity. Jamison, a psychiatrist, has authored several books that have advanced the understanding of mental illness for the general reader; this one is informed by both her training and her authorized access to Lowell's medical records. This is more study than biography readers particular about chronology should keep a biographical sketch of Lowell at hand. Surveying the writings of Lowell's New England ancestors, she finds abundant evidence of manic depression. She traces the arc of Lowell's multiple manic episodes: early bursts of inspired language, chaos as he spiraled out of control, depressions that drowned the creative spark, and heroic efforts to keep working despite it all. Her chronicle of the disease's impact on Lowell's family and friends will resonate with anyone with a loved one suffering from the illness. Jamison has created a landmark analysis of the disease that molded a brilliant man, and an immensely moving book.--Gwinn, Mary Ann Copyright 2017 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Jamison (An Unquiet Mind), a psychologist and honorary professor of English at St. Andrew's University, is uniquely qualified to pursue the connections between creativity and mania-in this case, through the brilliant example of American poet Robert Lowell (1917-1977). He was born into a prominent New England family from which he inherited both deep Puritan roots and a legacy of manic depression. Jamison's study is a "narrative" of his illness. She is not interested in biography per se, but does place Lowell's mental health in the context of his life and show his illness's influence on his poems. Jamison paints a sympathetic but brutally honest portrait of what manic depressive disorder can do to both sufferers and the people around them-her depiction of Lowell's second wife, critic and fiction author Elizabeth Hardwick, is especially compelling. She is able to draw on medical records from his various hospitalizations, released by Lowell's family to Jamison, and bring her own medical expertise to bear. Some judicious editing would not go amiss-this is a long read with some repetition-but Jamison has constructed a novel and rewarding way to view Lowell's life and output. (Feb.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

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