From the Publisher
The New York Times Book Review Mr. Heller treats the whole panorama of history past and present with the bravado of Mark Twain in one of his sassier moods.
Doris Lessing I think Picture This is brilliant. It has the astringency and wit of Catch-22, matured.
San Francisco Chronicle The author of the outrageous classic Catch-22 once again comments on all of society and history with this whirlwind tour through the minds of Aristotle and Rembrandt. Their vastly different worlds are not so very different from each other, or for that matter, from our own world. History as told by Heller is so comic and heartbreaking that you wonder why anyone would want to live there.
Chicago Sun-Times Ingenious another new kind of novel: intelligent and written with grace....A fiction to appreciate and ponder.
Vogue Pure renegade Heller at best, as sharp (and thoroughly American) as Lizzie Borden's axe.
Rita Mae Brown Chimerical, political, and funny, Picture This is a novel with fangs....His flashiest since Catch-22.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In a radical departure, Heller has concocted a clever, strange piece of experimental historical fiction. As the novel begins, slovenly, debt-ridden Rembrandt van Rijn is painting his now-famous Aristotle Contemplating the Bust of Homer. Suddenly, we are whisked from 17th century Holland to ancient Greece, where an exiled, weary Aristotle clairvoyantly watches Rembrandt doing his portrait. Not much has changed, the philosopher concludes as he gazes down the centuries at our dawning modern era of greed, wars and capitalism run amok. Written in a flat, reportorial style, omniscient in viewpoint, the narrative confusingly and annoyingly jumpcuts in time and spacebetween and within epochs. The chapters on Athens, where Plato pontificates while Socrates berates the belligerent youth Alcibiades, are occasionally wickedly funny. Best read in short takes, this startling parable about the degeneration of art into commodity and the survival of human values in a materialistic world demands total suspension of disbelief. For willing readers, it casts an undeniable spell. First serial to Playboy; BOMC featured alternate. (September)
Less a novel than a discursive meditation on a theme, this work broods over the manifold implications of the Metropolitan Museum's possessing Rembrandt's Aristotle Contemplating the Bust of Homer. Juxtaposing the Periclean Age with the Golden Era of the Dutch Empire, and always aware of the quasi-imperialism of recent American history, Heller focuses and refocuses in different historical settings on the ambiguous incompatibilities of art and contemplation with the equally human drives of material lust, vanity, and ambition. The collapsed and degraded Athenian Empire, collapsed and degraded European imperialism, and our own post-1945 history of cold, tepid, and hot wars are brought into pathetic consonance. Sardonic, polemical, occasionally preachy and turgid, but to my mind Heller's most interesting book since Catch-22 . Earl Rovit, City Coll., CUNY
Read an Excerpt
Aristotle contemplating the bust of Homer thought often of Socrates while Rembrandt dressed him with paint in a white Renaissance surplice and a medieval black robe and encased him in shadows. "Crito, I owe a cock to Asclepius," Plato has Socrates saying after he had swallowed his cup of poison and felt the numbing effects steal up through his groin into his torso and approach his heart. "Will you remember to pay the debt?"
Now Socrates, of course, did not owe a cock to Asclepius, the god of medicine.
And the leather merchant Asclepius, you will find written here, son of the physician Eurymynedes, was as baffled as anyone to learn of the bequest from the slave who appeared on his doorstep in the morning with a live rooster in his arms. The authorities were curious also and took him into custody for questioning. They put him to death when he continued to profess his ignorance and would not reveal the code.
Copyright © 1998 by Joseph Heller