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3.3 18
by David Shields, Shane Salerno

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Raised in Park Avenue privilege, J. D. Salinger sought out combat, surviving five bloody battles of World War II, and out of that crucible he created a novel, The Catcher in the Rye,




Raised in Park Avenue privilege, J. D. Salinger sought out combat, surviving five bloody battles of World War II, and out of that crucible he created a novel, The Catcher in the Rye, which journeyed deep into his own despair and redefined postwar America.

For more than fifty years, Salinger has been one of the most elusive figures in American history. All of the attempts to uncover the truth about why he disappeared have been undermined by a lack of access and the recycling of inaccurate information. In the course of a nine-year investigation, and especially in the three years since Salinger’s death, David Shields and Shane Salerno have interviewed more than 200 people on five continents (many of whom had previously refused to go on the record) to solve the mystery of what happened to Salinger.

Constructed like a thriller, this oral biography takes you into Salinger’s private world for the first time, through the voices of those closest to him: his World War II brothers-in-arms, his family, his friends, his lovers, his classmates, his editors, his New Yorker colleagues, his spiritual advisors, and people with whom he had relationships that were secret even to his own family. Their intimate recollections are supported by more than 175 photos (many never seen before), diaries, legal records, and private documents that are woven throughout; in addition, appearing here for the first time, are Salinger’s “lost letters”—ranging from the 1940s to 2008, revealing his intimate views on love, literature, fame, religion, war, and death, and providing a raw and revelatory self-portrait.

Salinger published his last story in 1965 but kept writing continuously until his death, locked for years inside a bunker in the woods, compiling manuscripts and filing them in a secret vault. Was he a genius who left the material world to focus on creating immaculate art or a haunted recluse, lost in his private obsessions? Why did this writer, celebrated by the world, stop publishing? Shields and Salerno’s investigation into Salinger’s epic life transports you from the bloody beaches of Normandy, where Salinger landed under fire, carrying the first six chapters of The Catcher in the Rye . . . to the hottest nightclub in the world, the Stork Club, where he romanced the beautiful sixteen-year-old Oona O’Neill until she met Charlie Chaplin . . . from his top-secret counterintelligence duties, which took him to a subcamp of Dachau . . . to a love affair with a likely Gestapo agent whom he married and brought home to his Jewish parents’ Park Avenue apartment and photographs of whom appear here for the first time . . . from the pages of the New Yorker, where he found his voice by transforming the wounds of war into the bow of art . . . to the woods of New Hampshire, where the Vedanta religion took over his life and forced his flesh-and-blood family to compete with his imaginary Glass family.

Deepening our understanding of a major literary and cultural figure, and filled with many fascinating revelations— including the birth defect that was the real reason Salinger was initially turned down for military service; the previously unknown romantic interest who was fourteen when Salinger met her and, he said, inspired the title character of “For Esmé—with Love and Squalor”; the first photographs ever seen of Salinger at war and the last known photos of him alive; never-before-published love letters that Salinger, at fifty-three, wrote to an eighteen-year-old Joyce Maynard; and, finally, what millions have been waiting decades for: the contents of his legendary vault—Salinger is a monumental book about the cost of war and the cost of art.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
★ 09/23/2013
The culmination of over 200 interviews and almost a decade of research, Shields (How Literature Saved My Life) and Salerno, director of the documentary accompanying the book, offer an oral history, effectively blended with narrative and analysis of the iconic writer and his body of work. In lesser hands, this approach could quickly spiral out of control, but Shields and Salerno keep the story on track. Granted, many mileposts and lore—such as Salinger's predilection for young girls or Catcher in the Rye's influence on high-profile assassinations—will not be all that revelatory but the authors' impressive collection of first-person accounts by those who were there gives readers greater insight into the writer and his place in the world. Literary snippets, such as "I'm Crazy," a short story Salinger wrote in Europe that was the first story narrated by Holden Caulfield, and asides—"Jesus, he has a helluva talent," Hemingway is reported to have said of Salinger—combined with a number of photos will make this a must-read for fans of the celebrated author. Photos. (Sept.)
Time - Lev Grossman
“Vivid . . . There are riches here . . . [Salinger] presents a decade’s worth of genuinely valuable research . . . Salinger doesn’t excuse its subject’s personal failings, but it helps explain them: in his fiction, Salinger had a chance to be the good, untraumatized man he couldn’t be in real life.”
The Associated Press - Hillel Italie
“Unprecedented . . . Nine years in the making and thoroughly documented . . . Providing by far the most detailed report of previously unreleased material, the book . . . both fleshes out and challenges aspects of the author’s legend. . . . [Salinger] has new information well beyond any possible posthumous fiction.”
The New York Times - Michiko Kakutani
“Revealing . . . [A] sharp-edged portrait.”
Washington Post
"Positively thick with previously unreleased photos, interviews, and correspondence."
Entertainment Weekly
"The reminiscences are layered with a stunning array of primary material. . . . Taken as a whole—the memories, the documents, the pictures—the book feels as close as we'll ever get to being inside Salinger's head."
Los Angeles Times
"Salinger gets the goods on an author's reclusive life. . . . It strips away the sheen of his exceptionalism, trading in his genius for something much more real."
"An explosive new biography."
Denver Post
"An exhaustively detailed portrait of the famously reclusive novelist."
USA Today (3.5 out of 4 stars)
“Eloquently written and exhaustively reported . . . Salinger is an unmitigated success. . . . Shields and Salerno have struck journalistic gold. Salinger is a revelation, and offers the most complete picture of an American icon, a man deified by silence, haunted by war, frustrated in love—and more frail and human than he ever wanted the world to know. . . . A startlingly revealing story.”
The Washington Post
Salinger is the thorny, complicated portrait that its thorny, complicated subject deserves. . . . The book offers the most complete rendering yet of Salinger’s World War II service, the transformative trauma that began with the D-Day invasion and carried through the horrific Battle of Hürtgen Forest and the liberation of a Dachau subcamp.”
The Wall Street Journal
“Engrossing . . . There are fascinating and unique accounts that get to the heart of Salinger. . . . The freshest material comes from Salinger’s letters, which bring his own voice, often adolescent-sounding, into the commentary. Previous biographers didn’t have access to much of this material.”
The Daily Beast
“Juicy . . . Salinger is full of fascinating revelations. . . . The most extensive portrait yet of a writer who spent nearly sixty years doing everything in his power to avoid precisely this kind of exposure.”
Brain Pickings - Maria Popova
“Unprecedented . . . A masterwork . . . An exquisitely researched and beautifully engineered piece of storytelling about one of modern history’s most enigmatic personas.”
Salon - Laura Miller
“Refreshingly frank about [Salinger’s] many shortcomings and how they might have affected his work . . . Salinger amply documents the author’s youthful arrogance and selfishness, his infatuation with his own cleverness and his inability to see the world from the perspective of anyone who wasn’t a lot like himself.”
Sunday Times (London) - John Walsh
“A stupendous work . . . I predict with the utmost confidence that, after this, the world will not need another Salinger biography.”
Kirkus Reviews
★ 2013-10-01
Overstuffed, thoroughly revealing biography--from oral and written sources, and always episodic--of the legendary writer. The big news in Shields (How Literature Saved My Life, 2013, etc.) and Salerno's book, the companion to Salerno's documentary, has been the promise of several new books, completed and approved by Salinger, that will be issued between 2015 and 2020. One is a World War II story, and therein hangs another tale--and a long part of the present volume. Other biographers have noted how strong a part Salinger's wartime experience played in his subsequent thought, but Shields and Salerno chase down the story in minute detail, including Salinger's witness to the liberation of Nazi death camps and the psychological breakdown that ensued: "You never really get the smell of burning flesh out of your nose entirely, no matter how long you live." As he went into combat at Normandy, we learn, Salinger carried six chapters of Catcher in the Rye--"not only as an amulet to help him survive," Shields notes, "but as a reason to survive." Catcher, Salinger's most famous book, was of course autobiographical, and Shields and Salerno lend specific weight to just how and how much. They also link Salinger's famous hermitage, beginning in the 1950s, not necessarily to a desire to flee fame so much as a fulfillment of the Vedanta ideals he had adopted as another kind of sanity-preserving talisman, in which withdrawal from and eventual renunciation of the world is necessary. No question but that Salinger was troubled--and, as the testimonial of former paramour Joyce Maynard and others has it, capable of cruel and creepy behavior. About the only drawback of Shields and Salerno's book is their overly credulous reliance on other writers and their heavy-handedness in piling on the heaps of negativity (some deserved) about Maynard and her ambitions. Was Salinger the major artist he has been held up to be? This book helps defend the affirmative response and whets the appetite for the Salinger books to come.

Product Details

Simon & Schuster
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 2.10(d)


Meet the Author

David Shields is the author of fifteen books, including the New York Times bestseller The Thing About Life Is That One Day You’ll Be Dead; Reality Hunger, named one of the best books of 2010 by more than thirty publications; and Black Planet, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. His work has been translated into twenty languages.

Shane Salerno is the director, producer, and writer of Salinger, the highly anticipated documentary film about J.D. Salinger that will premiere theatrically in September 2013 from the Weinstein Company and debut as the 200th episode of American Masters on PBS in early 2014. In addition to Salinger, Salerno has written and produced a number of successful films and TV series. He most recently co-wrote and served as executive producer of the critically acclaimed film Savages, directed by three-time Oscar winner Oliver Stone.

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Salinger 3.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 18 reviews.
Brian-Allard More than 1 year ago
J.D. Salinger was a beloved and celebrated author for his works like Catcher in the Rye, but he was a recluse and little was known about the man. Now David Shields and Shane Salerno take us on a journey into what drove this very private man. It is an excellent book. It goes in depth into those in his life – his family, his lovers, his neighbors, and his editors.
HopeLife More than 1 year ago
Salinger is a superb account of the life of famed author J.D. Salinger. It traces his childhood, his war years, the writing of Catcher in the Rye, and his disappearance from the public eye. The two authors have done a fine job researching the life of this elusive icon.
JiffyPopYumYum More than 1 year ago
An absolutely brilliant account of the life and career of J.D. Salinger!
SarahMcClurg More than 1 year ago
This book could not be any better. It provides an insightful look into the mind of a great man. I was thoroughly impressed with the depth of research and insight into J.D. Salinger's troubled life. A true gem!
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MarienicollBetaIN More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this book, by the ones who knew him mostly well. I fear the man will never get his right to privacy even in death. There's even know decades of popularity of so much increase on labeling a person. Did Salinger ever owe anyone anything? All the man wanted to do was to be left alone. He didn't run the worlds rich and famous,he didn't trust. because he chose to take the low road and not give into peoples asperations of the fame, they could find nothing more than to attack and attack with devious hatred. He was in noway a hunter of children. He found comfort in their innocence, the careless lives of what the world should be like. Salinger, has the right to keep negativity out of his life and negative people. Once he did this it caused a uproar. Who are we to live his life for him or demand what he should be? Shame on you all. He knew with fame and fanfare, comes the lies, the using, the blackmail. He chose to live his life away from all of that. I say good for him. He did live his life how he felt he wanted too. Shame on those for stalking him, taking cheap shots at him and invading him with a want of one photograph so you could have your paycheck. HE owed you nothing. Salinger, got his way,you are all waiting for more of his writing so you can incriminate him some more. He had his own world, far be it he didn't need or want yours. I hope you can all leave him alone, but I'm sure you wont, once an invader always an invader.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is a profound entry into the subjective inner experience and the relationships of a most complex, damaged, but gifted man. Shields and Salerno should be praised for making the many links between J.D.'s lived experience and his writing, as well. I feel I came to know Salinger intimately, feeling his pain, and seeing how it played out in destructive and creative ways.
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Skidrow82 More than 1 year ago
The format is not the best, definitely, but it's got plenty of information you'd sure want to know about Salinger. I haven't seen the documentary but many people said that the book is just the script for it.
mitchiko More than 1 year ago
I had thought I had ordered the audiobook, but when the hard copy arrived, I thought I would try to read it. I could not get past the first chapter. Having individuals give their opinion on the man, did nothing for me. I had wanted to see the movie, but after attempting to read the book, I will pass.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Why would anyone be interested ? If you must get it from the library pictures dont do well on nook page counter
MornDew247 More than 1 year ago
Please. This whole book seems like a retelling of Kenneth Slawenski's Salinger: A Life, which came out a few years ago and which was excellent. Nothing new. In fact, I would not be suprised if this author read his book first. JMO.