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THE MOST DANGEROUS BOOK tells the painful yet exhilirating story of how Joyce's novel was conceived, written, published, burned, acclaimed and excoriated before taking its place as a masterpiece of world literature.Joyce's book ushered in the modernist era and changed the novel forever. But, for more than a decade, ULYSSES was illegal to own, sell, advertise or purchase. JTHE MOST DANGEROUS BOOK tells the painful yet exhilirating story of how Joyce's novel was conceived, written, published, burned, acclaimed and excoriated before taking its place as a masterpiece of world literature.Joyce's book ushered in the modernist era and changed the novel forever. But, for more than a decade, ULYSSES was illegal to own, sell, advertise or purchase. Joyce himself was a penniless outcast, reliant on his faithful supporters to keep both himself and his family going.After decades of research, Kevin Birmingham brings this remarkable story to life: from the first stirrings of inspiration in 1904 to the landmark federal obscenity trial in 1933....

Title : The Most Dangerous Book: The Battle for James Joyce's Ulysses
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ISBN : 9781784080730
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 432 Pages
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The Most Dangerous Book: The Battle for James Joyce's Ulysses Reviews

  • Paul Bryant
    2018-11-18 11:21

    TWO REVIEWS :1. THE SHORT VERSIONFor all Joyce fans this is a MUST READ.2. THE LONG VERSIONIn 1915 James Joyce was 33, unemployed, as poor as he’d ever been, with a wife and 2 young kids, living in Trieste, a few miles from where bombs were exploding and soldiers dying in thousands. His only book, Dubliners, had sold 412 copies since it was finally published in June 1914. (It had taken 10 years to get published). No one would touch his novel Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man with a twenty foot pole. So, then, the perfect time and setting to begin Ulysses! It took 8 years and became a dreadful pain in the arse for everybody. Two radical literary magazines, both run by women, one in America (The Little Review) and one in London (The Egoist) decided to try to serialise it. The chapters emerged and got ever weirder and more obscene. After receiving the “Sirens” episode, Harriet Weaver, editor of the Egoist, wrote to him :I think I can see that your writing has been affected to some extent by your worries. Ezra Pound put it another way and asked Joyce if he had “got knocked on the head or bit by a wild dog and gone dotty”. In America the government finally prosecuted when the Nausicaa chapter was published. They didn’t like Gerty MacDowell’s underthings, at all. In the courtroom :The DA launched into a red-faced invective, at which point Quinn [for the defense] broke in and pointed to the prosecutor : “This is my best exhibit! There is proof Ulysses does not corrupt or fill people full of lascivious thoughts. Look at him! Does a reading of that chapter want to send him into the arms of a whore? Is he filled with sexual desire? Not at all. He wants to murder somebody! He wants to send Joyce to jail. He wants to send those two women to jail. He would like to disbar me. He is full of hatred, venom, anger and uncharitableness. But lust? There is not a drop of lust or an ounce of sex passion in his whole body… He is my chief exhibit as to the effect of Ulysses.” Sylvia Beach, who ran Shakespeare and Co, a bookshop in Paris,(it’s still there! I have been…) decided to bite the bullet and publish Ulysses in 1922. When she did, it turned out that everyone was gagging for a copy, but they all lived in Britain or America where it was banned. It immediately became the supreme symbol of cultural rebellion. To have a copy, or even, to know someone who had a copy! O the thrill! So they had to smuggle their copies from France, and the smuggling takes up a fair chunk of the tale. Ulysses sold 24,000 copies in the following nine years, which was pitifully small. The Great Gatsby sold the same number in its first year & this was considered a major disappointment. So for ten years they couldn’t get Ulysses published in the USA because this vice supremo John Sumner would have vamoosed them off to Sing Sing. Into the gap stepped shady guys printing up pirated copies, and obviously paying Joyce nothing (just like music bootleggers later). They had to be stopped - and the only sure way of doing that was for Mr Quinn, the defender of Ulysses, to ask Mr Sumter to prosecute the pirates for distributing obscene books! Which situation he described as “somewhat ironical”.The government didn’t want the botheration of a full trial, so what they did was confiscate every imported copy. In December 1922 they had collected nearly 500 copies at New York’s General Post Office Building on 34th Street, and :They wheeled them down the basement’s dim corridors and unloaded them in the furnace room. … The men opened the round cast-iron hatches and began tossing James Joyce’s Ulysses into the chambers. Paper burns brighter than coal. For this very delicious book Kevin Birmingham got hold of a great subject, which we might have thought we already knew about but we really didn’t , not to this degree of essential detail. And just when the reader is thinking that this quaint old cultural war, long since won hands down, (is anything now considered to be obscene?) is a type of comedy, he switches the focus to Joyce’s own life, which was painful – literally. We have pages of Joyce’s horrible eye ailments, the grotesque eye operations, lists of treatments, all of which failed –Steam bathsMud bathsSweating powdersCold compresses and hot compressesIodine injectionsStimulation of the thyroidElectrotherapyLeeches applied to eyes (many times)Dionine (eyedrops) Salicylic acid (eyedrops)Boric acid (eyedrops)Atropine (eyedrops)Scopolamine (eyedrops)And of courseIridectomies (multiple times)He had decades of on-off painful eruptions of his eye problems, which KB attributes to tertiary syphilis, contracted way back when Joyce was a student in Dublin. However, thankfully, it wasn’t all misery. After Ulysses he began the inscrutable Finnegans Wake,of which Nora Barnacle said: “I go to bed and then that man sits in the next room and continues laughing about his own writing.” She would get out of bed and pound on the door, “Now Jim, stop writing or stop laughing!” (All Joyce’s friends hated Finnegan, but he carried on with it for 17 years & finished it & died.)When the formal case against Ulysses was heard in November 1933 it was a very rum affair. The prosecutor, the defender and the judge all agreed that Ulysses was a masterpiece of the highest order. No witnesses were called. Judge John Woolsey made the decision all on his own. Time magazine, that champion of the avant-garde, apostrophized thus :Watchers of the US skies last week reported no comet or other celestial portent. In Manhattan no showers of ticker-tape blossomed from Broadway office windows, no welcoming committee packed City Hall… Yet many a wide-awake modern-minded citizen knew he had seen literary history pass another milestone. For last week a much enduring traveler, world-famed but long an outcast, landed safe and sound on US shores. His name was Ulysses.It fair brings a tear to the eye. Except that the same journal was probably calling for Joyce's head on a plate ten years before. Well, the tide had turned.Let’s finish with a remarkable fact. Can I believe it? Well, I’m going to try. On p 340 KB informs us:After ninety years in print, Ulysses sells roughly one hundred thousand copies a year.I raise a glass to all of you yearly 100,000. May every one of you make it through to Molly’s final yes.

  • Glenn Sumi
    2018-12-07 06:00

    Today James Joyce’s Ulysses is a modern classic, freely available in dozens of editions and languages. Once upon a time, though, it was considered obscene and illegal. You could be arrested for owning a copy.Harvard lecturer Kevin Birmingham’s fascinating book examines the work's unusual history, from the original kernel of inspiration – a man helping Joyce after a drunken fight in Dublin’s St. Stephen’s Green – to the legal decision that changed the course of literature and our ideas about freedom of artistic expression. It covers Joyce’s poverty, his tempestuous relationship with Nora Barnacle, his exile from Ireland, his ambivalent relationship with his father and his ongoing eye ailments. One chapter about his eye problems reads like a horror story.The Most Dangerous Book focuses on the enormous battle to get Ulysses published, which involved censorship – by everyone from humble post office employees to printers refusing to set it in type – smuggling, illegal pirated copies and finally obscenity trials on both sides of the Atlantic.The cast of characters includes famous literary types like Ezra Pound, Ernest Hemingway and Virginia Woolf, whose infamous early reaction to the book and its author has gone down in history (“a queasy undergraduate scratching his pimples”). Her Bloomsbury pal T.S. Eliot disagreed, however, and Woolf would later use Joycean techniques in her own fiction.Though the book was being kept from the public so as not to influence and shock women and children, some of the most important people involved in the making of the book were in fact women: Sylvia Beach, whose bookstore Shakespeare And Company was Ulysses’ first publisher, Harriet Shaw Weaver, a political activist and magazine editor who became Joyce’s generous patron, and Margaret Anderson and Jane Heap of The Little Review, which published early chapters of the book.There’s lots of information to impart, and a variety of settings – Dublin, Trieste, Zurich, Paris, NYC, Chicago – but Birmingham organizes the material beautifully and knows how to tell a good story. Even the legal information is fascinating. When The Little Review was charged with obscenity, the representative of the New York Society for the Suppression Of Vice didn't want to read the offensive passages because the New York Comstock Act criminalized anyone"who writes, prints, publishes, or utters, or causes to be written... any obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy disgusting or indecent book, picture, writing, paper."In other words, offending passages from Ulysses couldn't be spoken aloud in court or typed by a stenographer! Catch-22.Publishing geeks will appreciate how Ulysses changed the industry; we meet a brilliant young editor named Bennett Cerf, who bought and transformed the influential Modern Library and went on to co-found Random House.And the big trial proves a worthy climax, filled with humour, tension and a great character in the intelligent and open-minded presiding Judge Woolsey.The ending feels a little abrupt – a longer epilogue would have been nice, to fill us in on what became of all the people we met in the previous 350 pages. But this is a smart, accessible work of scholarship, indispensable for fans of Joyce and the history of the modern novel.

  • Geoff
    2018-11-30 10:12

    Birmingham’s book won me over by the end. I’m not fond of his writing style, his analysis of Ulysses as a work of art is fairly superficial, and there is a brevity and breeziness about the book as a whole that often left me unfulfilled, but as a historian he has his shit together, and we are not likely to get a more complete telling of the struggles, personal and institutional, that James Joyce, Harriet Shaw Weaver, Sylvia Beach et al. had to endure and surmount to see Joyce’s first masterpiece published and exonerated. Birmingham also does a fine job connecting Joyce, Ulysses, and its circle of supporters to other progressive movements emerging at the time, such as feminism (by the way, did you know that Ulysses only exists at all because of the overwhelmingly dedicated, courageous efforts of, predominantly, women?), socialists, anarchists, radical artists and thinkers of all ilks, and the publications that fought to give them a voice, such as The Little Review and The Egoist- a fascinating period in the history of publishing all by its lonesome.Look, the twentieth century’s most important, popular, widely-read and commonly appreciated book, Ulysses, by all reasonable measures shouldn’t have come into existence. Joyce’s staggeringly detrimental health, poverty, and transience, the machines of institutional censorship and an oblivious, ignorant market combined mightily against its being and survival. But from our standpoint in the twenty-first century, Joyce, Weaver, and Beach are the victors. An artist’s complete freedom of expression? Let’s say the game is still on, but things are looking up.So if you don’t know about this period in Joyce’s life and the fascinating people and circumstances that came together to give the world Ulysses, you’ll want to read this book. But also, please read Ellmann on Joyce, and for a thorough account of these times and affairs from a multiplicity of angles, please see Noel Riley Fitch’s Sylvia Beach and The Lost Generation, which both entertains and informs! Whee!

  • Joseph
    2018-12-01 06:10

    The Most Dangerous Book: The Battle for James Joyce’s Ulysses by Kevin Birmingham is the book about the book. Kevin Birmingham received his Ph.D. in English from Harvard, where he is a lecturer in History & Literature and an instructor in the university’s writing program.I am old enough to remember the Larry Flynt obscenity trial and remember hearing it compared to "Howl". At the time I figured Flynt must be doing something absolutely vile because, it was the bicentennial year and America stood for freedom. There had to be a very good reason for a book to be banned in America. Joyce more closely resembles Ginsberg than Flynt, but the idea of censorship and proclaiming books as obscene is unheard of in today’s America. Most young adults would be hard pressed to name a censored or banned book. Groups express outrage and burn books ranging from about Harry Potter to the Koran. Politicians expressed their outrage over the work of Robert Mapplethorpe and Karen Finley. However, you can buy just about any book or get any book you want. At the beginning of the twentieth century things were quite a bit different. I read Ulysses prior to reading Birmingham’s history. I found myself chuckling at some of the cracks both about sex, bodily functions, and religion. However, most of the book was pretty much what was expected in a modernist novel. One hundred years makes a huge difference in what is considered obscene.Joyce could not his book published. Publishers turned the book down. Virginia Woolf’s small press also rejected the book. Woolf did not like the book, but rejected it on the grounds that it was much too big of a project for her small press. The portions she read, according to several scholars, did influence her writing Mrs. Dalloway. Ulysses did get published by a small bookstore in Paris run by the American Sylvia Beach exporting the book remained a problem. The surprising part was how America handled the book. The Comstock Act prevented any obscene material (and contraception information) to be sent through the postal system. Although today, the reader may not see the post office as a law enforcement agency, but at the time only the post office covered the entire country down to every street. There was no FBI at the time. The Sedition Act of 1917 gave the federal government power and forbade the use of "disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language" about the United States government, its flag, or its armed forces or that caused others to view the American government or its institutions with contempt. The Sedition Act stayed in effect until the end of 1920; two years after WWI ended. The Most Dangerous Book not only describes the difficulty of getting Ulysses published, but brings all the participants in the effort: Joyce, his family, Comstock, The Little Review, Margaret Anderson, Ezra Pound, and players on both sides of the censorship issue in the United States. The book also gives an in-depth look at censorship in America, which is usually stifled in American history. This is an extremely well done book with extensive documentation. It is a history that covers more than the attempts to publish a book. Reading the novel, Ulysses, is not necessary before reading The Most Dangerous Book. Aspects of the novel are covered in the book. Very highly recommended to history readers and for fans of James Joyce. An outstanding read.

  • Trish
    2018-11-17 10:06

    As a girl I was not able to understand the attraction of Joyce’s Ulysses. Just as Birmingham tells us, lawyers defending Joyce on charges of indecency used the defense that young girls would neither understand nor be much interested in Joyce’s supposedly great work, and therefore he was not corrupting them. As far as I was concerned, that was true. I never got to the “good bits.” I just didn’t understand what the heck he was talking about. He was crude, he was blunt, and he was clear enough for me to know that if I wanted to hear jokes about farts I could listen to the adolescents on my block.Now, however, with this enormously detailed and beautifully read book on the genesis and development of the works of Joyce, I finally have a better idea why he was considered such an important author. In the process of explicating Joyce’s work, Birmingham also touches on the life and works of Ezra Pound, Ernest Hemingway, Sylvia Beach, Bennett Cerf and any number of important writers and publishers of the time in Europe and America during the 1910s through the 1930s. Joyce suffered from a malady of the eye, iritis, which he first experienced while he was in his twenties. It continued his entire life, with surgeries and administered drugs unable to cure it. Joyce died in 1941. Illness played a huge part in his life, according to Birmingham, though Joyce’s Wikipedia entry does not mention it. He was in the process of going blind most of his adult life, which must be one reason why in photographs Joyce’s eyes look so unfocused. (view spoiler)[Sadly, the underlying cause of the iritis may have been syphilis, which was rampant in Dublin when Joyce lived there. Joyce also called Europe a "'syphilisation'…and the disease accounted for the continent’s manias.” (hide spoiler)]This is a big book about one book, really, so if you find yourself short on time, pull up a chair and read Chapter 26. It not only tells one the outlines of what Joyce was doing in Ulysses, but what he meant by the very style of his writing and why Ulysses was considered so groundbreaking. Chapter 26 is the one in which a 10+ year legal battle was resolved in the United States concerning the “greatness” of the work as opposed to the “filth” of the work. The judge hearing the case was particularly interesting in the text of his opinion. Judge Woolsey had read the entire work, not just the bits conservatives were hoping would condemn the book, and concluded that the dirty words used by the author were not used merely to shock or corrupt but because lower-middle class Irish folk actually talked and thought like that. Whether or not that is true is kind of beside the point. Enough people “thought like that” and “acted like that” to show the judge that obscenity can’t be something we feel and do but hide—it has to be something completely outside the normal experience of human endeavor.But Woolsey understood more of Joyce than the dirty bits and he helped me to get a grip on what was going on:Joyce has attempted—it seems to me, with astonishing success—to show how the screen of consciousness with its ever-shifting kaleidoscopic impressions carries, as it were on a plastic palimpsest, not only what is in the focus of each man’s observation of the actual things about him, but also in a penumbral zone residua of past impressions, some recent and some drawn up by association from the domain of the subconscious.”John Keating narrates Penguin Random House Audio production of this book and his accents, pauses, and breaks allow us to hear the greatness of the language. Ulysses charts the course of man across centuries, collapses it into a single day, tying together the past and the present and the future. Joyce takes the heart of human life—sex—and shows us its relish and life-giving qualities. He does not allude to sex. He talks about how it is conducted frankly, openly, with exuberance and appeal. Ulysses is both funny and real, and like Birmingham and Judge Woolsey point out, in the end, it is several characters and their layers of consciousness all giving voice at one time. That may be why it makes such great theatre.This book started out with Joyce as a young man meeting Nora Barnacle, the woman who would become his wife, confidant, and the one who, through letters and otherwise, expressed many of the exquisite sexual pleasures explored in Ulysses. Judge Woolsey also mentioned that it is the voice of the woman, Molly Bloom, who remained in his mind after the book was closed, not those of the other main characters: Stephen Dedalus, Buck Mulligan, or Leopold Bloom. I highly recommend the audio edition of this book, though the Random House print copy has some great photographs and is beautifully printed. If at first you wonder at Birmingham's lavish praise of Joyce you will be won over by the end. --------------And just for fun, there was an article in The Atlantic about translating Joyce's masterpiece into Chinese. Don't miss it.

  • David Lentz
    2018-11-16 11:10

    I hope that Kevin Birmingham plans to enter the Pu this year in Nonfiction for "The Most Dangerous Book" because it certainly is worthy of it. The narrative shows depth of scholarship and an accessible literary style, which reads like creative nonfiction. It's a miracle that "Ulysses" ever came to see the light of day. The depth of the poverty and physical suffering of Joyce, who essentially lived to embody Polyphemus, the Cyclops, of Homer's "Odyssey," assembled "Ulysses" piecemeal despite every painful physical obstacle and published it to overcome powerful social and political forces deeming it obscene. Visionary heroes emerged as advocates for Joyce like Sylvia Beach, Harriet Weaver, Ernest Hemingway, Judge John Woolsey, Ezra Pound, Morris Ernst upon each of whom both the legal and illegal publication of "Ulysses" depended. For all practical purposes the multiple eye surgeries of Joyce for iritis left him virtually as blind as Homer and may have served to drive the interior monologues into double streams of conscious depicting human beings as they really exist in everyday life. In so doing Joyce produces the highest form of verisimilitude in a breakthrough narrative style which proved germinal for great novelists who followed him including Faulkner and Virginia Woolf, the latter of whom initially just didn't understand what Joyce was doing in his narrative innovation. I was amused by the perspective of Nora Barnacle cited generously throughout the book, especially after drinking bouts in Paris after one of which Hemingway carried Joyce home: "Well, here comes James Joyce, the writer, drunk, again, with Ernest Hemingway." The literary ties binding back both to "Ulysses" and Homer's "Odyssey" read well in linking the two epic masterpieces. Given the genius of "Odyssey" only a like-minded visionary would take upon himself the fearless re-casting of Homer's epic in one day in Dublin with such an unlikely Odysseus as ad man and cuckold, Leopold Bloom, and the tipsy Telemachus, Stephen Dedalus as the Joyce the elder and the younger, respectively. Joyce boldly launched the Modernist Literary Movement and the clever positioning by Morris Ernst as a "modern classic" helped pave the way for the legal publication of "Ulysses" in the USA and UK. Those who stood by Joyce under the most adverse conditions and worst of times must have seen the promise and humanity and stylistic innovation of "Ulysses" to such an extent that they made incredible personal sacrifices to enable its author to achieve his literary immortality through their collective intercession on his behalf. I cannot recommend this book more highly to avid readers who value all of the writing of James Joyce. As Van Gogh once said, "Fear nothing. Just paint." Kevin Birmingham's vivid, scholarly and accessible book brings to life not only the complex genius of James Joyce but also his uncommon courage and those of his enlightened champions who clearly understood before anyone else how much of a contribution he made in "Ulysses" to literature and in our timeless understanding of the human condition.

  • Bjorn
    2018-12-06 04:05

    The Most Dangerous Book attempts something big, and to a large extent pulls it off. To tell not only the story of how James Joyce came to write Ulysses, his struggle to get it published in the face of critical and legal adversitities, and through that lens the story of how Victorian moralities and censorship laws were forced to make way for the modern(ist) world, never to be heard of again... uh, maybe. Joyce's novel represented not a finished monument of high culture but an ongoing fight for freedom.And as a pure biography of Ulysses and the soil it sprang from - Joyce's youth, the early modernist writers and the surrounding world of new political and literary ideas that weren't always always all that pleasant or peaceful, Joyce's love for Nora Barnacle, and the various unlikely characters who midwifed the novel (strikingly many of them women) - it's both well-researched and well written; at times thrilling, funny, heartbreaking. There are certainly more in-depth works on Ulysses as a work of literature, but that's not what Birmingham is going for here.What's uncanny about censorship in a liberal society is that sooner or later the government's goal is not just to ban objectionable books. It is to act as if they don't exist. The bans themselves should, whenever possible, remain secret.Because then you get to the big issue here - the one that gave the book its title. The actual question of just what feathers Ulysses ruffled, and how it could take more than 10 years for it to be legally published in most English-speaking countries. (Birmingham being American, the world is pretty much limited to the US, the UK, and Paris.) And I'm not saying these parts of the book aren't just as good; between the historical background on censorship laws and the ideas and methods that went into them back when postal workers were essentially Big Brother, the various attempts to get att what the hell "obscene" even means, and the minutiae of everything surrounding the troubled road to legality... It makes for a hell of a literary thriller, coupled with what is obviously a love for Ulysses itself, and I can't wait to re-read the damn tome again.The legalization of Ulysses announced the transformation of a culture. A book that the American and British governments had burned en masse a few years earlier was now a modern classic, part of the heritage of Western civilization. Official approval of Ulysses, in prominent federal decisions and behind closed doors, indicated that the culture of the 1910s and 1920s - a culture of experimentation and radicalism, Dada and warfare, little magazines and birth control - was not an aberration. It had taken root. Or, more accurately, it indicated that rootedness itself was a fiction.(...) By sanctioning Ulysses, British and American authorities had, to some small but important degree, become philosophical anarchists. (...) There was no absolute authority, no singular vision for our society, no monolithic ideas towering over us.Obviously the book could have done more - said more about modernism as a whole, continued to draw parallels to political developments past the publication of Ulysses, etc, but that's not the focus here, so that's fine. The main thing that irks me somewhat is that I feel like Birmingham tends to treat the central concept here, that of freedom of speech (well, print) just a tiny little bit too simplified; as if it was something you either have or don't have, and that it was entirely the work of Joyce and his cheerleaders that shepherded the world from one side to the other. Almost as if "Freedom" was a simple commodity, a word that means something in itself.But eh, you can't have everything. Except of course by reading Ulysses. ...and the word that shakes it all down is YES.

  • Anthony Eller
    2018-11-27 09:27

    I would give this book ten stars if possible. Not only is this book interesting and engaging, but it falls under the category of "important books to read." Not only does it follow James Joyce as he writes ULYSSES and the difficulties that follow with the publication process due to it being deemed "obscene," but this book gives a lot of information about the history of the suppression of published material in the U.S., England, and France in the early 1900s. By reading about book burnings. By reading about the suppression of not only ULYSSES, but other books and magazines as well, we can truly be grateful for what we have today. We can also be empowered to make sure that further book banning is stopped and that the Press is free and open.

  • Sue
    2018-12-11 07:17

    I’ve been raving to anyone who will listen about this wonderful new book from Kevin Birmingham about James Joyce’s Ulysses. Inevitably someone says that he/she couldn’t read Ulysses, so why read a critical book about an unreadable book? Of course, I found the novel difficult also; I understood and embraced some chapters and despaired over others. But even in its difficulty, most people internalize some of its images, its magisterial sweep, its originality. The idea is simple: a single day in the life of Dubliner Leopold Bloom is a kind of odyssey, detailed and wandering, with parallels to the Greek epic. Birmingham’s carefully researched Most Dangerous Book leads the reader through the turmoil of the writing of Ulysses, its publication and censorship battles. It’s a great narrative. No, you don’t need to have read the novel — but it will lend depth to the reading of The Most Dangerous Book if you have had your own wrestling match with the great sprawl which is Ulysses.It required the efforts of many people to bring Ulysses to a reading public: lawyers, anarchists, smugglers, and, to my personal delight, fierce and unlikely women ready to give all in the service of James Joyce’s book. Modernists eager to embrace a new way of literature found their greatest cause in Joyce; some of them never met him. Margaret Anderson and Jane Heap, who edited a tiny money-losing publication called The Little Review, printed the early chapters in successive magazine issues. Anderson had said to Heap, “This is the most beautiful thing we’ll ever have. We’ll print it if it’s the last effort of our lives.” Harassed by censors, they ended up in court and lost.Sylvia Beach, protector of the Lost Generation in Paris, published the first edition of the novel in 1922 and finagled to smuggle the books into the United States. She allowed Joyce to make costly revisions at the last minute, when the book was already typeset, so fully did she trust the instincts of Joyce’s brilliant mind.A fourth unlikely woman was Harriet Weaver, an Englishwoman of means who delivered copies of Ulysses to book shops in London under the watchful eye of the police. Harriet Weaver did something else important: she kept sending Joyce money to give his family a roof and daily sustenance.Then there were the great boosters among other writers, especially Ezra Pound, but also T.S. Eliot and Ernest Hemingway. Lawyers John Quinn and Morris Ernst fought the court battles, and Bennett Cerf defended its literary value. Essentially no one received money (although Cerf, a true businessman, reaped his harvest in years to come).So many far-sighted people recognized the worth of the book — but there was the matter of the “filth.” Joyce wanted to make his book encyclopedic, to include every single act and thought that invaded Leopold Bloom’s day. I was always told this was “stream of consciousness,” but Birmingham understands that Joyce’s novel was “a new rendering of the way people think,” a leaping among thoughts, observations, actions. Including sex, and defecation, and masturbation. There had never been anything like it.In the landmark obscenity trial of 1933, the presiding judge, John Woolsey, came to court having read the novel. This exchange between him and attorney Morris Ernst is my favorite moment in the book:Ernst: “Your honor, while arguing to win this case I thought I was intent only on this book, but frankly, while pleading before you, I’ve also been thinking about the ring around your tie, how your gown does not fit too well on your shoulders and the picture of John Marshall behind your bench.”The judge seemed to grasp his point. “I have listened as intently as I know how,” Woolsey replied, “but I must confess that while listening to you I’ve been thinking about the Hepplewhite chair behind you.”“That, Judge,” said the lawyer, “is the essence of Ulysses.”Woolsey agreed, and concluded that Ulysses was not obscene.Birmingham is an historian with a storytelling gift. The first third of the 20th century is right here: women’s rights, World War I, obscenity laws, syphilis, the Lost Generation. Amidst it all is the love story of James Joyce and Nora Barnacle that became a great novel.

  • Caroline
    2018-12-02 03:25

    Birmingham does an excellent job of portraying of the unsettled social and political environment that existed when Joyce began his work, and the array of personalities who worked for and against publication. The scenes of American and British public battlegrounds alternate with descriptions of Joyce’s personal battlegrounds of poverty, ill health and emotional outbursts. Birmingham’s pages regarding the trials, with their legal issues and arguments, are clear, even though I suspect they were significantly more complex than he attempts to describe in this book.I enjoyed the early sections the most, for two reason. First, because I had forgotten about the radical political elements of the pre-WWI period that fostered fear and a conservative approach to any challenge to the status quo. The anarchist bombings, in particular, unsettled law enforcement, and the fear bled over into, and strengthened, other conservative movements and the fanatics whose identity and power were wrapped up in them. There are extensive background discussions of the anti-obscenity organizations and campaigns in the United States, along with profiles of leaders Comstock and Sumner.Second, the early chapters highlight the radical women who championed modernist literature, the suffrage movement, and a broader feminst agenda. They endured just as much poverty in some cases, and always considerably more risk of imprisonment, than Joyce did. The author notes the irony that so many legal impediments were erected to protect women from the ‘smut’ of Ulysses, when women were responsible for inspiring it, serializing it, financing its author for years, and publishing the first edition. Birmingham also enjoys the running tension between the wealthy but personally a bit uptight attorney John Quinn who was the early defender of publication rights in the US, and the women partners who ran the Little Review and actually serialized the first chapters of Ulysses. He referred to them a 'those Washington Square women' (read, lesbians) and supported their efforts on grudging principle.The other remarkable women are Miss Weaver in London and of course Sylvia Beach, in Paris. But most of course, Nora. The second half of the book focuses on the men who came to the fore as attitudes changed and critical opinion coalesced in Joyce’s corner. There is a poignant portrait of the man who published bootleg, corrupt copies of Ulysses in the US, and an admiring portrait of Judge Woolsey, who first allowed publication and indeed included a glowing review in his opinion.In fact, Random House printed Woolsey's opinion for many years in their editions of the book. Birmingham includes an arm’s length depiction of Bennett Cerf’s creation of his company, and his pursuit of rights--and the right--to publishUlyssess. Perhaps ironically for someone who celebrates Molly’s soliloquy, he is offended by Cerf’s philandering, so the credit is grudging. I picked up a used copy of Cerf’s autobiography at a library book sale last week and plan to look up his version of the story.There are extensive quotes from the passages that were cited in court cases as obscene. The pages I found the most emotional to read, however, were those with extensive graphic descriptions of Joyce’s eye problems and surgeries. Not for the faint of stomach. Mine turned. Thank goodness for penicillin.I note that other reviewers rate Birmingham as a bit light on literary analysis. I have read Ulysses but no criticism, so I am probably pretty close to the audience that the author has in mind. I can see the reviewers’ point, but the extent of literary criticism here suffices for Birmingham's purpose and encourages me to look up other exegeses. You can’t do everything in one book.

  • Petre
    2018-12-12 08:08

    The most complete biography of a book

  • Jenny (Reading Envy)
    2018-12-14 06:27

    "These days, Ulysses may seem more eccentric than epoch changing, and it can be difficult to see how Joyce's novel (how any novel, perhaps) could have been revolutionary. This is because all revolutions look tame from the other side."This quotation comes near the end in The Most Dangerous Book, but sums up what you will find inside. It isn't just the story of how Ulysses was banned and censored for obscenity and changed how literature is evaluated for these things, although that story in itself is fascinating - the magazines run by Anarchists and their involvement, the efforts European countries and the United States were making to remove dangerous, dissenting voices from their populations, the role of the post office (in the USA) and the rising power of the police (in the UK) in addressing vice, obscenity, and women who might *gasp* become unwed mothers if exposed to such improper things (apparently even then, that was the worst fear).It is also the story of Joyce himself. When I read Ulysses, I read it alongside several companion books, but those only focused on the contents and their connections to the Odyssey, etc. I never really knew where Joyce came from, anything about Nora, or his considerable poverty and health challenges.Nora, the great love of his wife, is an important force in his life and in his writing! The author includes some of the letters they wrote back and forth to each other, and let's just say that Ulysses is quite mild in comparison. I didn't know of Joyce's connections to key figures, for instance Ezra Pound, Emma Goldman, T.S. Eliot, Virginia Woolf, Sigmund Freud, and Mark Twain. The era, the locations, the politics, the wars - all of these events created the unique situation for this great work to emerge. I want to re-read Ulysses now, with all this context in mind. And now the bits I marked and can't bear to exclude, behind a cut (potentially different in final version of book as I had an ARC):(view spoiler)["It made sense, in the heady years before World War I, to wage war through art. To the radicals, high art was largely a political invention, a propaganda tool justifying empire, so to attack museum culture was to attack imperial power.""To artists like Joyce, who considered free expression sacrosanct, censorship epitomized the tyranny of state power, for the state not only banned obscenity, it decided what obscenity was.""One of the paradoxes of the war was that while Londoners bravely faced the possibility of being burned alive by thermite every time they went to the pub, they were less willing than ever to risk moral offense.""Egoism appealed to modernists who found politics hopeless. In what seemed to be a permanent era of corporations and jostling empires, egoism provided anarchism with a way to retreat into culture while making that retreat seem more lik a principled defiance. The individual would defeat collectivism not through protests and dynamite but through philosophy, art, and literature. Turn-of-the-century individualist anarchists rejected political violence, deemphasized communal associations and celebrated a tradition of anarchist ideas already in circulation, from Wordsworth, Whitman and Zola to Thomas Paine, Rousseau, Nietzsche and Ibsen. It suited Joyce perfectly.""An intellectual gulf separated the Galway girl from the artist, and yet in some ways she became a model for every reader he ever wanted. The 'ideal reader,' Joyce would write years later, suffers from an 'ideal insomnia.' He wanted people to read novels as carefully, as ardently and as sleeplessly as they would read dirty letters sent from abroad. It was one of modernism's great insights. James Joyce treated readers as if they were lovers."More things to read:The New AgeThe FreewomanThe New FreewomanThe EgoistThe Ego and His OwnThe Little ReviewMore people to read/read about:Katherine MansfieldDora Marsden (hide spoiler)]

  • Mientras Leo
    2018-11-20 10:21

    qué bueno!La edición, la historia, el tema... todo es digno de ser marcado en este libro en el que el ensayo y la novela se fusionan para dar vida al título "Ulises" y a su autor en un momento social interesantísimo.http://entremontonesdelibros.blogspot...

  • Larry
    2018-11-22 04:17

    Wow, this book was fascinating. Ulysses was presented to me as an impenetrable classic (now on my 3rd read) but never as clandestine smut. Imagine resorting to Molly's soliloquy for titillation? Thank Jimmy Joyce for your spurious internet pursuits. He paved the way via "High Art." Went downhill from there - nudge, wink.

  • Biblio Curious
    2018-11-15 07:15

    Books like this mess up the star rating for everyone! The author is very pro-Joyce but is writing with a clearly biased American agenda. He gives a sweeping overview of the history of censorship & book banning in American history. He touches on this subject in Europe. He also goes into Joyce's creative process & relationship with Nora. And, he gives brief, non-spoilery commentary on Ulysses itself. If nothing else, read only the Epilogue. Then I dare you, will this book compel you to read Ulysses; for the 1st time or again?Back to the consarned star rating, this book limits its focus to the 'Battle for Ulysses' & covers the topic well. Europe's point of view could easily fill it's own book, same with bios for each member of Joyce's family, also for all the advocates & pirates involved. Biased or not, Birmingham did give an overview of all these topics in a detailed, fast paced, interesting way. So ....4 stars 'cause he's also pro Joyce, can I offer that as a bias of my own?

  • Chris
    2018-11-27 04:28

    Disclaimer: ARC read via Netgalley. Of all the Joyce works that I have read, I think Dubliners is the best. There is perfection in each of those stories. I’ve read Portrait and Ulysses. Today, we don’t really consider Joyce to be shocking. After all, you can hear worse by simply turning on the television or radio. We have ads about men finding ways to solve their erectile dysfunction. We have stars showing us their everything. In short, shocking has changed in meaning. It’s good, therefore, that books such this come into being so we can remember the past and the debt that is owed. Birmingham traces the development of Ulysses as well as the struggle that it faced simply to be published or read. We would not know of Joyce if it hadn’t been for women. Some of the women are well known such as Sylvia Beach, and some, such as Miss Weaver, not so well known. What is most interesting is how and why such woman decided to champion Joyce. Miss Weaver, for instance, not only funded him but also went from printer to printer because the printers tried to tone the language, fearful of getting charged under various decency laws of the United Kingdom. Another interesting story is the smuggling of the book into prohibition era America. This occurred in much the same way that alcohol was smuggled in from Canada. The young men who did this were facing more than just monetary fines. Over a book. Literature is dangerous in more ways than it first appears. Birmingham deserves props for something else. Not only does he make the history and the era come to life, not only does he make Joyce and his relationships understandable, but he actually bring to life poets such as Pound. If Mr. Birmingham had been teaching the class where I was introduced to Pound, I’m sure I would’ve found Ezra far more interesting. Passionate is what the writing is in this book. If Joyce wrote about bodily function with vim and vibe, Birmingham writes about a book about the book with the same degree of energy. At times, this energy leads to quasi digressions – we learn more about Comstock and his successors than perhaps we need to - but the digressions are interesting and compelling related. This is amazing true when he discussing Pound and the poet’s relationship to those around them. Birmingham discusses not only the attempted censorship of the book (starting with Pound himself) but also the influence of the book. Virginia Woolf, for instance, and the influence that Joyce’s book had upon her and her writing is discussion persuasively, and placed in context with Woolf’s rejection of the novel in terms of publishing it. This isn’t to say that Birmingham is a blind supporter of Joyce. If you have read Ulysses and didn’t like it or if you haven’t read it, this study is still important, simply to understand the impact that a work of fiction can have on society and how society has changed. Unlike some critics, Birmingham doesn’t make the reader feel as if having a lukewarm or cold reaction to Ulysses is heresy, but a view that anyone can have. Too often people feel the need to stress the importance and greatness of authors or works – if you don’t like Hamlet, you’re stupid type of a thing – Birmingham is the opposite. He just wants you to know about the time, the reaction, and the book. What you do with that knowledge is up to you. He’s not going to judge. Highly recommended for lovers of Joyce, freedom of speech, feminism, and Woolf.Crossposted on Booklikes.

  • Loring Wirbel
    2018-11-15 04:30

    With more than a thousand biographies of James Joyce and analyses of Ulysses out there, could Kevin Birmingham slice the pie in a unique enough way to make his book stand out? Yes, he could, and the narrative provides a synopsis of strange times in censorship that most readers would be far too young to appreciate, let alone remember. It's rhetorical to talk about a moment and a literary work that changed everything, but the decade-long effort to legitimize Ulysses really did change everything.Outside the parameters of explaining the difficult character of Joyce himself and his intentions in writing the book, Birmingham provides a useful service in explaining the cloister of radical independent DIY publishers in the 1910s that made several of Joyce's original small-press publications possible. We are aware of the Progressive Era, and we may be dimly aware of the Dadaists, anarchists, suffragettes, and peace activists that dwelt along the edges of the mainstream muckrakers, but few of us understand how many of these outside communities came together (referred to disparagingly by the mainstream world as "those Washington Square types") to publish magazines like The Little Review. Birmingham shows how many art-radicals helped support political victims of the Palmer Raids like Emma Goldman, and makes the unusual observation that Joyce was aided in particular by cloisters of lesbian women represented by such marginal figures as Margaret Anderson, Jane Heap, and Sylvia Beach. Let's face it, the Washington Square types were the Beat Generation (or hippies, for that matter) of the 1910s and 1920s, and we all could stand to understand a little more of their history.Joyce, of course, does not come across as an easy character to defend, even realizing that the harsh eye diseases brought on by syphilis kept the author in nearly constant pain. His wife, Nora Barnacle, may not have been a big promoter of his work, but she certainly was a stoic character who put up with a lot of nonsense. It's fun to watch the way literary lions like Ezra Pound, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and (belatedly) Virginia Woolf would go to great lengths to help Joyce, despite his antisocial tendencies.On the legal front, it is interesting to note how late in history the government attitude to literature was driven by repressive legislation such as the Comstock Act and the Hicklin Rule. Morris Ernst, the ACLU attorney driven to make Ulysses legal in the U.S., had to fight preconceived notions that the First Amendment was only about political speech and only about preventing prior restraint. If something was deemed lewd or unseemly, most in government believed the federal authorities had every right to keep it from the hands of the public, and there were active vice societies in every city to make sure this would happen. The famous Molly Bloom soliloquy that ends Ulysses with a multitude of "fuck"s, "shit"s, and raw sexual descriptions, formed the centerpiece of the government's case against Joyce, but many federal prosecutorial authorities (in the UK as well as U.S.) felt that the book was not merely obscene, but threatened to upend society because it entered a chaotic world where all guideposts, including those of narrative and sequential meaning, were ripped asunder just as moral guideposts were.The FDR White House does not come across in a positive way in this book, because of Roosevelt's hiring of conservative Catholic activists for key moral positions. But when the federal government lost its Circuit Court appeal of Judge Woolsey's original ruling allowing Ulysses to be published, the government wisely threw in the towel, setting the stage for further rulings regarding books such as Fanny Hill, Tropic of Cancer, and Couples, which threw obscenity definitions into the dustbin of history, where they belonged. Now, of course, the notion of community standards has essentially come to mean there are no standards of obscenity or "decency" in the U.S.While Birmingham is extremely eloquent in pulling together these many threads, and while he carries the torch for destroying notions of obscenity in matters of government, I can't help but think that in an artistic and literary sense, Birmingham drew his own line in the sand as to what he thought was acceptable. He suggests that Joyce went too far in the years before his death in mapping-out the dream state of Finnegan's Wake, since he left all sensibility and story structure behind. Yet I myself consider Finnegan's Wake a far greater work than Ulysses even if it can only be understood by a few. What if Joyce had lived past WW2, and had elected to write a book based on undecrypted intercepts from Alan Turing, or based on translations of the unrepeatable numbers that make up pi? He might have gone past the limits of what most people could understand, but it doesn't mean he made a wrong turn. The proponents of language poetry, flarf, and similar spinoffs have pushed the limits of meaning and nonsense in recent years, and I've been somewhat surprised to find that in prose, only a handful of writers like Burroughs, Pynchon, Gaddis, and Ballard even attempt to write works where all narrative and sequential meaning is tossed to the winds. Perhaps such works would be a reach too far to win any audience whatsoever. But unlike Birmingham, I'm willing to say that if a writer has gone beyond the parameters I have set, maybe I simply haven't advanced far enough to get it yet. The fault might not be the writer's.Birmingham reaches two important conclusions in this book that are buried in the middle of the work, and not explicitly repeated in the end. In one important observation, he uses the character of Chicago smuggler Bernard Braverman to show that many middle-aged people who were radicals in the 1910s and early 1920s were only too willing to help Joyce by the late 1920s and 1930s. Like Braverman, they felt that their world of radical social change had collapsed with the Palmer Raids, and that the only way to show one's radical roots in the get-rich-and-stay-drunk 1920s was to take part in nonviolent actions that deliberately poked the government in the eye.Birmingham also makes an observation that remains just as relevant for the Pentagon Papers, for the 1979-80 Progressive magazine H-bomb case, and for our own era of WikiLeaks and Snowden NSA revelations. By the time a boundary-changing work has been published anywhere on the planet, the bomb has already gone off. The only thing the government can do is damage control, and is usually very ineffective in performing the most minimal of damage control. In the case of Joyce and Ulysses, the bomb was not just dirty language and the internal sexual thoughts of Molly Bloom. The larger bomb was one whose fuse had been lit by Marcel Proust several decade previous. From 1931 on, the right of the author to put forth an uncensored, unfiltered, and unstructured stream of consciousness was affirmed. It wasn't just social mores that were shoved aside in the Ulysses ruling, but a whole set of assumptions about how reality was socially constructed and described that dated back to the Victorian Era, assumptions that were bound to be shattered at some point before mid-century.

  • James Murphy
    2018-11-13 09:29

    In our sexually-drenched culture it's hard to imagine a time when language such as that Joyce used in Ulysses to create his rich characters would be judged by governments to be obscene and unpublishable. That was the case, however, and Kevin Birmingham's book on how Ulysses overcame that to be declared legally fit to publish is terribly interesting, a terribly fascinating story well told.The Most Dangerous Book is an elegant combination of criticism, history, and biography relating how Ulysses came to be written and published and how it finally was judged respectable. I've read the novel several times, have read several critical works on Joyce and his novel, have read the biographies and Joyce's letters, and yet Birmingham not only wrote the familiar story in a way that still engaged me but informed me of many facts and ways of thinking about the subject I wasn't aware of. How many fans of Joyce don't know the story of how Sylvia Beach published the novel for him through her Paris bookstore, Shakespeare and Company? Birmingham's account of the Joyce-Beach friendship still adds a lot I didn't know. How many admiring readers of Ulysses don't know that Joyce's wife Nora and her easy sensuality was the largest inspiration for Molly Bloom? Birmingham's portrait of their relationship provides new insight into their characters and relationship.As you might expect, the climax of the novel's troubled publication history was the famous 1933 obscenity trial presided over by Judge John M. Woolsey. Birmingham writes that serious readers who came into contact with Ulysses in the decade prior to the trial recognized its literary value. So it was no surprise that Woolsey, who loved literature, made a point of reading the entire novel, and that perspective allowed him to see that the objectionable material, when considered in light of the characters and the novel's rich thematic material, wasn't inserted with pornographic intent or meant as an aphrodisiac. What I'd never realized was the story didn't end there; Birmingham also tells the full account of the appeal to the U. S. Court of Appeals, which upheld Woolsey's decision.I'd had this book for over a year, had received it as a gift. But I'd been a little slow to come to it because I thought the subject matter wouldn't add to my understanding of the novel and author. I was wrong. It's a rich, gripping read.

  • Tony
    2018-11-20 03:30

    THE MOST DANGEROUS BOOK: The Battle for James Joyce’s Ulysses. (2014). Kevin Birmingham. ****.There is a saying: “The third time is a charm.” What this means – I think – is that if you fail at something twice, you will be successful the third time around. I’ve tried to read Ulysses twice now; once in college, where it was an assigned text, and once when I was in my forties. Now, I’m in my seventies and have a copy sitting on my “to-be-read shelf.” When I found this book, I thought it might be a good idea to learn more about the background of the legal battle over its publication. Frankly, this book provides more than enough background on the various obscenity trials related to the novel. The book also places the author (Joyce) and his circle in perspective. We know more about the ex-pat writers in Paris during the early part of the 20th century, and certainly more about the spokespeople who formed the backbone of the defense for the novel itself. Of Joyce himself we learn very little other than that we already likely knew. There’s nothing new here. New to me, however, and of exceptional value, was the description of the world into which “Ulysses” was attempting to introduce itself. The world post-WW I was a very different place, and was filled with people with very different attitudes. The people were much more aware if their individual rights and freedoms, and did what they could to preserve them. Although the ultimate approval of the novel involved a long and drawn-out legal battle, that battle could not have been won without the support of readers around the world. Knowing all of this doesn’t make Ulysses any easier to read. I still look ahead to a chore, but I can now look ahead in safety because of the effort put out by its supporters. Recommended.

  • Donna Davis
    2018-12-13 07:22

    This book took me a long time to read, and at first I didn't understand why, because I care a great deal about the First Amendment, and the period in question, which is close to the Russian Revolution and is at a time when both socialism and anarchism attract huge meeting halls full of people. There's sharp reaction to that as well, hence the Espionage Act used as a club against little magazines that hardly anyone was reading anyway. Action and reaction were both potent forces.But it seems to me that although Birmingham has done a great deal of research and found a lot of interesting contextual information, it has run away with the book. A really ruthless editor needs to take a meat axe to this tome and regain the focus on the topic at hand; Joyce and Ulysses disappear for long stretches, reappear briefly and are gone again. It is as if Birmingham has worked so hard and done so much research that he can't bear to whack any of it out in order to tighten up his vehicle. I've done research, and I can sympathize, but sympathy is not agreement.Focus, focus, focus. Context should be secondary, and the struggle to publish Ulysses should be primary. It isn't. I forced myself to finish this book because I had committed to doing so, but if I'd purchased it used or by any other means than free from Net Galley's publishers, I would have called it quits at the twenty percent mark.

  • Joshua May
    2018-11-21 11:14

    It is difficult to fathom that a work as highly praised and frequently referenced as James Joyce's Ulysses could stand to have it's history and significance illuminated any further at this late hour, but Kevin Birmingham appears here in his first publication with just such a torch. Birmingham's talent for combining a strong historical narrative with an unflinching eye for accuracy and inclusion is reminiscent of Shelby Foote's three volume epic on the Civil War. Above all else, the most engaging and enlightening offering here is in the author's ability to preserve the essence of Ulysses while explaining the origins and effects of that essence.

  • Óscar Brox
    2018-12-13 07:02

    Como Robert Polito (y Jim Thompson) o Bruce Cook (y Dalton Trumbo), la de Kevin Birmingham es la clase de tarea literaria tan bigger than life que sería mezquino puntuarla (si es que puntuar no es ya de por sí mezquino y sospechoso) con menos estrellas. Lo importante es que es un repaso extraordinario de un libro extraordinario. Nada más.

  • Seamus Thompson
    2018-12-07 05:08

    This is a fascinating, even riveting, account of how the first novel to attempt an uncensored depiction of the full spectrum of human thought and experience was conceived, written, published, banned, burned, smuggled, pirated and -- finally -- became the basis for the court decisions that overturned decades of prudish, restrictive obscenity laws and opened the door for the freedoms of expression we enjoy today. The first five paragraphs are a masterful hook, demonstrating with striking clarity just what an unusual book Ulysses is--not only for its contents but for virtually every other aspect of its early existence.Unlike so many of the books written about Ulysses over the years, this is not another dry academic tome of interest only to Joyce devotees and scholars. Birmingham's writing is lively, often bursting with infectious enthusiasm. And with good reason. Even readers with little or no interest in Ulysses are sure to find the cast of historical characters (famous and little-known) colorful and fascinating. Alongside expected figures like Joyce, Ezra Pound, Ernest Hemingway, Virginia Woolf, and Sylvia Beach, are the suffragists, anarchists, socialists, socialiates, printers, publishing pirates, attorneys and judges who each played a role in defying the ban on Ulysses -- or trying to uphold it. My only complaint about The Most Dangerous Book -- and it is minor -- is that the scope of the epilogue is confined mostly to Ulysses itself and does not touch on what came next for its cast of characters. There is sense in Birmingham's choice, though, for Ulysses itself (even more than its creator) is the hero of The Most Dangerous Book. Some of the most charming and touching moments in Birmingham's book are to be found in accounts of how Ulysses worked on readers from the inside out over time: the writers, critics, lawyers, judges, and would-be publishers who were initially unimpressed, repulsed, or baffled, found themselves unexpectedly won over by Ulysses.The Most Dangerous Book is a passionate reminder that the same novel many of today's readers avoid because of its reputation for difficulty or recall with loathing years after they grappled with its many challenges as undergrads, once engendered enough love and devotion to make it the center of a decade-long battle for the right to create art that expresses any truth about life we might wish to express -- and to be able to expose ourselves such works of art -- without fear of fine or imprisonment. As Birmingham reminds us, obscenity laws still exist but before the lifting of the ban on Ulysses the presence of a single obscene word or "pornographic" scene was enough to justify the outright censorship of a book, regardless of any artistic merit within the text as a whole. Now, thankfully, that standard is reversed and the list of works we are able to enjoy as a result is beyond measure.

  • Carole
    2018-12-08 11:10

    I've never had the courage to tackle Ulysses, but was always curious about the controversy surrounding it and what made it such a literary landmark.Birmingham succeeds abundantly in satisfying my interest and tells a rollicking story to boot. And what a story it is. He sets the context in Victorian Europe, Puritan minded America, and the post World War I forces that rebelliously sought the overthrow of convention and complacency. It is a story with many heroes and villains. Joyce scratches out his enormously complex tome while virtually starving and slowly going blindin a most excruciating manner. That he found supporters and patrons, who recognized genius in the most outrageous writing, is a testament to human courage. Indeed, literature had never seen anything like it, and the likes of Ezra Pound and Sylvia Beach did not give up on Ulysses despite almost universal condemnation and the fiery end of publication attempts.The story is full of colorful characters (not to mention the language in Ulysses): obscenity obsessed zealots, literary luminaries, smugglers, inept customs officials, ambitious publishers, lawyers bent on a cause, and in the end enlightened prosecutors and an amazing judge. You really couldn't make this stuff up. And Birmingham knows how to tell the story.In the process he explains why the book was such a groundbreaking event and how the literary world was transformed. The historical context, both politically and in the world of the arts, was very well done.I still may not have the courage to tackle Ulysses, but it no longer seems such a daunting mystery. This book is very suitable for the Joyce novice.

  • Ally
    2018-12-02 08:20

    First and foremost I wish there were more stars. Having just finished Ulysses this summer I immediately picked up Mr. Birmingham's clever, insightful, moving and thoroughly well written book about, not just the man, but the creation, publication, censorship, trial and eventual victory of one of the most incredible books ever written.What made this book so wonderful was not only Mr. Birmingham's admiration for his subject (both the book and the man) but his deep understanding what Ulysses means not only to fans, but to the history of literature itself. For instance, "Even a book like Ulysses...might never have happened - might have ended in a New York police court or with the outbreak of a world war if it were not for a handful of awestruck people. Joyce's novel, with its intricacies and schoolboy adventures, with each measured and careful page, gave them what it gives us: a way to sally forth into the greater world, to walk out into the garden, to see the heaventree of stars as if for the first time and affirm, against the incalculable odds, our own diminutive existence. It is the fragility of our affirmations - no matter how indecorous they may be - that makes them powerful. When Joyce was a little boy and dessert time was announced, he would make his way down the staircase, holding his nursemaid's hand and call out to his parents with every accomplished step, "Here's me! Here's me!"Here you are, Mr. Joyce. Here we all are. Our life in one gigantic book. Nicely done, Mr. Birmingham. You're a fine writer and I look forward to what you bring to the table next.

  • Nicholas Whyte
    2018-12-10 04:04 I am vaguely familiar with Joyce and Ulysses; I must say I had not appreciated just how strong the censorship regimes were in both the UK and the USA at the turn of the century, and the extent to which literary innovation was tied into political radicalism - The Little Review, which initially serialised Ulysses in America, was closely linked to Emma Goldman and generally sympathetic to anarchism. I also hadn't realised the crucial role of Ulysses in the origins of Random House. It's a fascinating story, well told.Joyce himself comes across as a demanding, self-centred individual, constantly needing financial subvention from (mostly female) donors, his body riddled by venereal disease, driving his family mad. But there's something about his prose that catches your soul, and while there are parts of Ulysses that miss the mark, there are parts that very much hit it. Birmingham makes the very strong case that censorship was wrong and unjustifiable in principle, but the fact that it was being used against a work as hefty (in many ways) as Ulysses made the case for continued censorship weaker (though not in Ireland, where Ulysses was never formally tested but there was a tough regime for censorship of books from 1929 to 1967,, parts lasting until 1998).

  • Jane
    2018-12-11 09:23

    Only superlatives for this book--a fascinating story of the writing, publishing, banning, and trial of Ulysses. It includes a wonderful cast of characters, in addition to Joyce and Nora: great literary lights, Virginia Woolf, Ezra Pound, F Scott, T.S. Eliot; women champions of Joyce/Ulysses, Margaret Anderson, Sylvia Beach, Harriet Weaver, plus various legal/business figures of the time. It is such a rich historical period. Oh, and then in the background of it all, Birmingham details Joyce's eye troubles (sometimes in excruciating detail), which itself comes to seem like a sort of mythical through line to Joyce's writing life--tragic, ironic, heroic. Birmingham doesn't go much into Finnegan's Wake, but I was left wondering: how the hell did it get written after all of that? The Audible version of this well-written book was also well read. But I am going to get the hard cover, because I wanted to underline things and just because great books need to be cherished.

  • Nikki Moustaki
    2018-11-14 08:28

    I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and I learned a lot, too. The writing is brilliant, well organized, and accessible. Even if you're not a Joyce fan, this book's historical aspect is worth the read. I'm now a fan of this author, and I'm looking forward to seeing his next effort. Five stars!

  • Chris
    2018-12-04 11:27

    Ok, this was truly amazing, full 5-star. I promise a characteristically subjective review (well, rant) about the evils of censorship as soon as I get away from the distractions of the Florida beaches.

  • Ryan Williams
    2018-12-12 04:04

    A good book of history reminds you just how improbable history is. Nothing is inevitable. A good example is this compelling, pacy account of how Ulysses was printed. Birmingham uses facts sparingly but cleverly. None of Joyce’s eye operations were performed under general anaesthetic. The advance of £50 he received from The Egoist for Portrait was equivalent to the magazine’s income for 1 year. The Nausicaa chapter was serialised in The Little Review and immediately prosecuted for obscenity; yet the prosecutor somehow failed to notice that Bloom spends the chapter tossing off. Virginia Woolf panned Ulysses (‘the book of a self-taught working man, & we all know how distressing they are, how egoistic, insistent, raw, striking, & ultimately nauseating’) yet never escaped its gravity well. Mrs Dalloway was a house built on Joyce’s foundations.Refreshingly, Birmingham does not turn a blind eye to Joyce’s egoism and fecklessness, especially towards the people who paid his bills. Birmingham argues Joyce’s eye problems were due to undiagnosed tertiary syphilis, a bacterial hangover from his student days prowling Nightown. The case is well presented but sidesteps a simple question: why did Nora never contract it, and by extension, why wasn’t it passed to Giorgio and Lucia during pregnancy?