Additional Book Information

Series: New York Review Books
ISBN: 9781590173343
Pages: 316
Publication Date: September 5, 2006

The Company They KeptWriters on Unforgettable Friendships

edited by Barbara Epstein and Robert B. Silvers


Many of the illustrious contributors to The New York Review of Books have had deep and abiding relationships—both personal and intellectual—with other poets, writers, artists, composers, and scientists of equal stature. The Company They Kept is a collection of twenty-seven accounts of these varied friendships—most of them undeniably fraught with "idiosyncratic complexities."

One of the sweetest and funniest is Prudence Crowther's memoir of her romance, at age thirty, with the seventy-four-year-old S. J. Perelman ("As a friend of mine put it, 'Yeah, too bad you couldn't have met when you were twenty-six and he was seventy —or when he was thirty, and your parents hadn't met yet'"). Darryl Pinckney recalls his unsettling stint as Djuna Barnes's handyman. Susan Sontag's piece on Paul Goodman is more about how they never hit it off; Seamus Heaney's remembrance of Tom Flanagan has all the melancholy affection of a bereft and beloved son. Larry McMurtry and Ken Kesey were graduate students together—for years afterward, McMurtry recalls, the Merry Pranksters would show up unannounced, and throw his family and neighbors into hilarious chaos. Derek Walcott recalls his parting of the ways with Robert Lowell, and of their bittersweet reconciliation. And Robert Oppenheimer writes that he wants to dispel the clouds of myth surrounding Albert Einstein: "As always, the myth has its charms; but the truth is far more beautiful."

From Anna Akhmatova's dreamlike description of wandering through Paris with the impoverished Modigliani to Joseph Brodsky's account of his first meeting with Isaiah Berlin (from which he returned to report, around the kitchen table, to Stephen Spender and W.H. Auden), these pieces are tantalizing glimpses into the lives of those who have made The New York Review of Books into what Esquire magazine calls "the premier literary-intellectual magazine in the English language."

The many contributors include:

Stanley Kunitz on Theodore Roethke
Robert Lowell on Randall Jarrell
Susan Sontag on Paul Goodman
Jason Epstein on Edmund Wilson
Saul Bellow on John Cheever
Robert Craft on Igor Stravinsky
Darryl Pinckney on Djuna Barnes
Derek Walcott on Robert Lowell
Enrique Krauze on Octavio Paz
Elizabeth Hardwick on Mary McCarthy
Larry McMurtry on Ken Kesey
Seamus Heaney on Thomas Flanagan
Robert Oppenheimer on Albert Einstein
Maurice Grosser on Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas

Also see The Company They Kept, Volume 2, for more writers and their remarkable friendships.


Silvers and Epstein, editors of The New York Review of Books, pull together 27 essays in this smart and eclectic collection. Published over the past four decades in the NYRB, pieces here deal with professional relationships and personal friendships among such writers as Robert Lowell and Jerome London, Susan Sontag and Paul Goodman, and Robert Oppenheimer and Albert Einstein. Saul Bellow writes of the immediate connection he made with John Cheever, whom he "met at irregular intervals all over the US." Derek Walcott shares his take on the work of fellow poet Robert Lowell, who "made the body of literature his body, all styles his style, every varying voice his own." And Larry McMurtry recalls his experiences with Ken Kesey, the original Merry Prankster, whom he first met at Stanford University in September 1960 and kept up with through the '70s, '80s and '90s....A thoroughly academic audience...will no doubt appreciate the comprehensive line-up here.
Publishers Weekly

Whether fond or surprisingly frank, these essays are soothing in their intimacy, their acceptance of fallible fellow humans. "As always," writes Robert Oppenheimer of Albert Einstein, "the myth has its charms; but the truth is far more beautiful."
O, The Oprah Magazine

A charming addition to a friend's bookshelf would be The Company They Kept: Writers on Unforgettable Friendships.

An extraordinarily striking, moving and delicious collection of short essays...The writing in most of these essays is dazzling, the anecdotes and insights even more so. It is a superb collection of vignettes, and their variety throws more light on the diversity and possibilities than a treatise could.
Financial Times

This volume should be read piece by marvelous piece: Robert Oppenheimer on Delmore Schwartz, Saul Bellow on John Cheever, Susan Sontag on Paul Goodman.
The Chicago Tribune

These wonderful reminiscences will renew readers' appreciation for those unpredictable joys shared between all close friends.