Additional Book Information

Series: NYRB Classics
ISBN: 9781681374963
Pages: 336
Publication Date: February 2, 2021

GermsA Memoir of Childhood

by Richard Wollheim, introduction by Sheila Heti

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February 2021 selection of the NYRB Classics Book Club.

Germs is about first things, the seeds from which a life grows, as well as about the illnesses it incurs, the damage it sustains. Written at the end of the life of Richard Wollheim, a major British philosopher of the second half of the twentieth century, this memoir is not the usual story of growing up, but very much about childhood, that early world we all share in which we do not know either the world or ourselves for sure, and in which things—houses, clothes, meals, parents, the past—loom large around us, seeming both inevitable and uncontrollable. Richard Wollheim's remarkable, moving, and entirely original book recovers this formative moment that makes us who we are before we really are who we are and that haunts us all our lives in lucid and lyrical prose.


In Wollheim's hands the sentence—often half a page long, full of sinuous purpose and subtle qualification—takes on extraordinary interest as he searches for the precise colour and purport of a childhood memory. The effect is of intellectual exactness given expression as a work of art. For all the book's rigour it is its poetry—the play of charged imagery, the sense of something impalpable that outlasts analysis—that one most remembers.
—Alan Hollinghurst, The Guardian

Germs evokes a prelapsarian world of infantile ecstasy and nightmare with uncomfortable honesty and almost hallucinogenic power.
—Hilary Spurling, The Telegraph

Germs is written with extraordinary elegance. Wollheim seems incapable of writing a bad sentence. . . . There is nothing quite like this poignant and mournful memoir. It is remarkable as a kind of sensory autobiography and as that rarest of memoirs, where one has the sense that one is in direct, intimate and occasionally frightening contact with the mind of a child.
—Michael J. Lewis, The Wall Street Journal

Wollheim is tireless at finding fresh aspects to an experience he is describing. Just when you think he has shown you every last facet of some childhood episode, up he comes with more.
Los Angeles Times

Wollheim's powers of description astound. Topographically or architecturally, no one has ever depicted London's more prosperous suburbs with such exactitude. His prose is the verbal equivalent to Pre-Raphaelite painting, crowded with lovingly observed and richly colored detail . . . I doubt anyone who has read it will forget it.
Literary Review

The intensity, delicacy and precision of the act of memory in Germs have provoked comparisons with Proust. Just comparison perhaps, but this is a Proust who can also make you laugh out loud. . . . In this fine memoir, Richard Wollheim has transmuted his childhood hurt and loneliness into an artful, precise, self-deprecating detachment.
The Irish Times