“Kevin Birmingham’s new book about the long censorship fight over James Joyce’s Ulysses braids eight or nine good stories into one mighty strand... The best story that’s told in Mr. Birmingham’s The Most Dangerous Book: The Battle for James Joyce’s Ulysses, however, may be that of the arrival of a significant young nonfiction writer. Mr. Birmingham... appears fully formed in this, his first book. The historian and the writer in him are utterly in sync. He marches through this material with authority and grace, an instinct for detail and smacking quotation and a fair amount of wit. It’s a measured yet bravura performance.” —Dwight Garner, The New York Times
"Mr Birmingham’s descriptions of the fight between these moral crusaders and the people defending Joyce’s work are thrilling... Few books about publishing manage to be this gripping. Like the novel which it takes as its subject, it deserves to be read." — The Economist (lead review)
“Today is Bloomsday, the hundred and tenth anniversary of the events in James Joyce’s “Ulysses”... If you are a young tryster who happens to be in Dublin, why not take a walk through Ringsend Park, the way Joyce and his girl did that evening? else can commemorate the day by buying and reading Kevin Birmingham’s terrific new “biography” of Ulysses, ‘The Most Dangerous Book: The Battle for James Joyce’s Ulysses.’”
“[Joyce] is its hero, and our sense of him is deepened immeasurably by Birmingham’s book.”
“The Most Dangerous Book” is the fullest account anybody has made of the publication history of “Ulysses”: its life as contraband, as talisman, as symbol, as sensualist’s bible and micro-atlas of the modern city.”
“Birmingham’s brilliant study makes you realize how important owning this book, the physical book, has always been to people, maybe first and foremost because it told other people who they were... May Birmingham’s book bring legions of new readers its way.” — The New Yorker (online)
“[A] grand, readable adventure story about the novel’s legal troubles. Hollywood-ready... Birmingham spent years sifting through archives. It shows. He has read Ulysses deeply, borrowing its organizing principles, telescoping some moments, amplifying others, jumping from character to character, continent to continent, subject to subject, text analysis to literary history. This all makes The Most Dangerous Book dynamic.”
“It makes a stirring climax to a book that is stunningly detailed and a touch obsessive... He presents Joyce as a damaged angel, a martyr to his religion of literature, a blind, syphilitic, prematurely aged hero in the 20th-century war of artistic independence. Joyce would have been delighted.”
“Birmingham has a deep love of the novel, and knows everything about Joyce. His learned book is a gripping page-turner... a narrative as exciting as a thriller, and as fantastical as a satire by Joyce’s fellow countryman Dean Swift.” (Five Stars)—A.N. Wilson, The Telegraph
“For its lively entwining of social history, legal intrigue, literary appreciation and collective biography — of patrons, publishers, censors and an incomparable author — The Most Dangerous Book will remain a landmark among Joyce studies for many years to come.”
A Form of Literary Anarchy
If you want to understand Ulysses, you should read about its obscenity trial.
"Kevin Birmingham’s new history, The Most Dangerous Book: The Battle for James Joyce’s Ulysses, deserves to be on any aspiring Bloomophile’s shortlist of accompaniments. This is a deeply fun work of scholarship that rescues Ulysses from the superlatives and academic battles that shroud its fundamental unruliness and humanity. Birmingham reminds us that this now-unquestioned “greatest novel” required the help of lawyers, anarchists, and bootleggers..."
"Birmingham’s depiction of [Judge Woolsey's decision] is a marvelous bit of close-up narrative history."
“Astute and gorgeously written”
“[Birmingham is] particularly adept at briskly and vividly sketching the way Joyce’s literary project epitomized the modernist ethos... It’s a story that, as Birmingham puts it, forced the world to 'recognize that beauty is deeper than pleasure and that art is larger than beauty.' He has done it justice.”
“Birmingham recounts this story with a richness of detail and dramatic verve unexpected of literary history, making one almost nostalgic for the bad old days, when a book could be still be dangerous.”
In this exultant literary history and nonfiction debut, Harvard lecturer Birmingham recounts the remarkable publication saga of Ulysses, often considered the greatest novel of the 20th century... Drawing upon extensive research, Birmingham skillfully converts the dust of the archive into vivid narrative, steeping readers in the culture, law, and art of a world forced to contend with a masterpiece.
"Modernism’s 'battle against an obsolete civilization,' encapsulated in the struggle to publish one taboo-shattering masterpiece."
"In his sharp, well-written debut, Birmingham reminds us that the artistic experiments of James Joyce were part of a larger movement to throw off Victorian social, sexual and political shackles. Indeed, authorities in England, Ireland and America were quite sure that Joyce’s shocking fiction was, like the feminists, anarchists, socialists and other reprobates who presumably read it, an attempt to undermine the moral foundations of Western society... Birmingham makes palpable the courage and commitment of the rebels who championed Joyce, but he grants the censors their points of view as well in this absorbing chronicle of a tumultuous time.
Superb cultural history, pulling together many strands of literary, judicial and societal developments into a smoothly woven narrative fabric."
“Birmingham has produced an excellent work of consolidation, bringing together bits and pieces from scores of previous Joyce-related biographies and studies. He presents a lively history... The Most Dangerous Book is impressively researched and especially useful for its meticulous accounts of various legal battles. It is meant to be fun to read and, setting aside my fogeyish cavils, it is.”
"Birmingham brings to life a work after which “modernist experimentation was no longer marginal. It was essential.” What begins as simply the “biography of a book” morphs into an absorbing, deeply researched, and accessible guide to the history of modern thought in the first two decades of the 20th century through the lens of Joyce’s innovative fiction."
“Mr. Birmingham serves up a series of entertaining courtroom dramas... The story of "Ulysses" has been told before, but not with Mr. Birmingham's thoroughness. "The Most Dangerous Book" makes use of newspaper reports, court documents, letters and the existing Joyce biographies. It looks back to a time 'when novelists tested the limits of the law and when novels were dangerous enough to be burned' and makes one almost nostalgic for it.”
“Birmingham is excellent at bringing to life the conflict... He tells the story with a mixture of compelling insight and deeply researched knowledge to form that most unusual hybrid: an erudite page-turner.”—Mail on Sunday
“Birmingham's new book is an exemplary piece of Joycean scholarship: immensely readable, deeply informed, and full of insights into what seems like an old story - but is really a story that is told here fully for the first time.”—Sunday Business Post (Ireland)
"What Birmingham delivers for the first time is a complete account of the legal war waged—chiefly by publisher Bennett Cerf and attorney Morris Ernst—to get Joyce’s masterpiece past British and American obscenity laws... for readers who value Ulysses for the revolution it affected in fiction, Birmingham has chronicled an epoch-making triumph for literature." —Booklist
“[The Most Dangerous Book] has a right to stand foremost on the shelf of those 300 books on Ulysses.”—National Post
“[A]n engaging and accomplished account... Birmingham delivers in a lively text, with fascinating detail, a ‘biography of a book.’”—Sydney Morning Herald
“Meticulously researched.” —Belfast Telegraph
“Highly accessible and beautifully written... A captivating and brilliant read.”—Irish Independent on Sunday