About the Book
Dorothy Parker, Rebecca West, Hannah Arendt, Mary McCarthy, Susan Sontag, Pauline Kael, Joan Didion, Nora Ephron, Renata Adler, and Janet Malcolm—these brilliant women are the central figures of Sharp. Their lives intertwine as they cut through the cultural and intellectual history of America in the twentieth century, arguing as fervently with each other as they did with the sexist attitudes of the men who often undervalued their work as critics and essayists. These women are united by what Dean terms as “sharpness,” the ability to cut to the quick with precision of thought and wit, a claiming of power through writing rather than position. Sharp is a vibrant and rich depiction of the intellectual beau monde of twentieth-century New York, where gossip-filled parties at night gave out to literary slanging-matches in the pages of the Partisan Review or the New York Review of Books as well as a considered portrayal of how these women came to be so influential in a climate where women were treated with derision by the critical establishment.
Mixing biography, literary criticism, and cultural history, Sharp is an enthralling exploration of how a group of brilliant women became central figures in the world of letters despite the many obstacles facing them, a testament to how anyone not in a position of power can claim the mantle of writer and, perhaps, help change the world.
Advance Praise for Sharp
“I have to recommend Michelle Dean’s Sharp: The Women Who Made an Art of Having an Opinion, a delicious cultural history that comes out in April. It brings together some of the most influential social critics of the 20th century, including Dorothy Parker, Mary McCarthy, Hannah Arendt, Susan Sontag and Joan Didion, and shows how these glamorous iconoclasts forged their singular careers. Dean makes the convincing argument that women’s voices—if not necessarily feminist ones—did far more to define the last century’s intellectual life than we realize.”—Michelle Goldberg, New York Times
“Few readers could fail to be impressed by both the research behind and readability of this first book by Dean . . . [A] stunning and highly accessible introduction to a group of important writers.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“[H]owever different these women may have been from each other, the author ably explains the ways in which their lives intersected, the conversations they had, and the goals they shared . . . engaging portraits of brilliant minds.”—Kirkus Reviews
“This is such a great idea for a book, and Michelle Dean carries it off, showing us the complexities of her fascinating, extraordinary subjects, in print and out in the world. Dean writes with vigor, depth, knowledge and absorption, and as a result Sharp is a real achievement.”—Meg Wolitzer, New York Times-bestselling author of The Interestings and The Female Persuasion
“Michelle Dean has delivered an exquisite examination—both rigorous and compassionate—of what it has meant to be a woman with a public voice and the power to use it critically. This book is ferociously good.”—Rebecca Traister, New York Times-bestselling author of All the Single Ladies
“There can’t be enough cultural histories which make the point that a woman intellectual must represent her own mind, and not the collective mind of all her ‘sisters.’ Sharp is a brisk, entertaining, well-researched reminder that it’s impossible to write—or think—without making life very messy for oneself, but to do so is an achievement well worth the pains.”—Sheila Heti, author of How Should A Person Be?
“An elegant, incisive, and richly detailed account of the lives of ten extraordinary women. I didn’t realize how badly I wanted a book on exactly this subject until I started reading it. Sharp is not simply a collection of distinct biographical essays, but a vital composite portrait of the intellectual life of twentieth-century America. It’s also a lot more fun to read than a deeply researched study of a group of intellectuals has any business being. A necessary book by a wonderful writer.”—Mark O’Connell, author of To Be a Machine
“An insightful look at some of the wisest and most influential women writers . . . engaging, empowering, and insightful.”—Apartment Therapy
From the Women of Sharp:
“What is accepted by most women as a flattering idealization of their sex is a way of making women feel inferior to what they actually are—or normally grow to be. For the ideal of beauty is administered as a form of self-oppression.”—Susan Sontag
“It would never have crossed my mind to object or to say, ‘You’re going to turn out to be wrong about me.’ It was a given in those days that if you were a woman and you wanted to do certain things, you were going to have to be the exception to the rule.”—Nora Ephron
“To put it very simply, I have always done what I liked to do.”—Hannah Arendt
Named a Most Anticipated Book of 2018 by Esquire, the Guardian, the Washington Post, the Huffington Post, The Rumpus, Elle, the Millions, Southern Living, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Boston Globe, Publishers Weekly, and Book Riot