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About Waiting for the Barbarians:

Over the past decade and a half, Daniel Mendelsohn’s reviews for The New York Review of Books, The New Yorker, and The New York Times Book Review have earned him a reputation as “one of the greatest critics of our time” (Poets & Writers). In Waiting for the Barbarians, he brings together twenty-four of his recent essays—each one glinting with “verve and sparkle,” “acumen and passion”—on a wide range of subjects, from Avatar to the poems of Arthur Rimbaud, from our inexhaustible fascination with the Titanic to Susan Sontag’s Journals. Trained as a classicist, author of two internationally best-selling memoirs, Mendelsohn moves easily from penetrating considerations of the ways in which the classics continue to make themselves felt in contemporary life and letters (Greek myth in the Spider-Man musical, Anne Carson’s translations of Sappho) to trenchant takes on pop spectacles—none more explosively controversial than his dissection of Mad Men.

Also gathered here are essays devoted to the art of fiction, from Jonathan Littell’s Holocaust blockbuster The Kindly Ones to forgotten gems like the novels of Theodor Fontane. In a final section, “Private Lives,” prefaced by Mendelsohn’s New Yorker essay on fake memoirs, he considers the lives and work of writers as disparate as Leo Lerman, Noël Coward, and Jonathan Franzen. Waiting for the Barbarians once again demonstrates that Mendelsohn’s “sweep as a cultural critic is as impressive as his depth.”


"Mendelsohn…is a gifted and entertaining writer. His prose is gorgeous and lyrical and his subjects are smartly considered and freshly revealed." —Vanity Fair

Waiting for the Barbarians is a demonstration of Mendelsohn’s stunning ability to think—not for us but a step ahead of us as readers, pulling out figments, fragments, and philosophies that we might not catch. . . .Reading Mendelsohn is a bit like lucid dreaming.”  —Interview

"Even more than his earlier books about literature and culture, it displays his characteristic strengths of style and judgment and his distinctive and engaging voice. As always, he is surprising yet convincing when he praises what practically everyone else condemns, or sees through the pretensions and confusions of books and dramas that everyone else admires." —Edward Mendelson, The New York Review of Books

“His essays often have a deft structure, building an essential question that is left hanging. Keep reading . . . and eventually you’ll arrive at the answer. But the pleasure is not in the answer, necessarily—it’s in the process.” —National Book Critics Circle Award Citation

“A throwback. . . to the glorious public intellectuals of former days such as Dwight Macdonald and Robert Warshow.” —San Francisco Chronicle

“Our most irresistible literary critic.” —The New York Times Book Review

Author Bio: 

Daniel Mendelsohn is the author of a memoir, The Elusive Embrace; the international best seller The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million; a translation of the works of C. P. Cavafy; and a previous collection of essays, How Beautiful It Is and How Easily It Can Be Broken. He teaches at Bard College.

Choire Sicha is the coproprietor of The Awl. A two-time editor of Gawker, he has written for the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times as well as a suspiciously large number of magazines exactly one time. He lives in Brooklyn.

Daniel Mendelsohn with Choire Sicha
In Conversation
Tue May 20, 7:00PM
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Audience Q&A
Book Signing