by Michelle Dean



This item is currently not eligible for coupon offers.

  • Available for Pre-Order. This item will be available on February 19, 2019


Sharp by Michelle Dean

Widely praised in hardcover, Sharp is the exhilarating story of ten exceptional women who used the power of their pens to carve out space for themselves in a world where men wrote the rules.

Dorothy Parker, Rebecca West, Hannah Arendt, Mary McCarthy, Susan Sontag, Pauline Kael, Joan Didion, Nora Ephron, Renata Adler, and Janet Malcolm are united by what Dean calls “sharpness,” the ability to cut to the quick with precision of thought and wit. Sharp is a vibrant depiction of the intellectual beau monde of twentieth-century New York, where gossip-filled parties at night gave out to literary slugging-matches in the pages of the Partisan Review or the New York Review of Books. It is also a passionate portrayal of how these women asserted themselves through their writing in a climate where women were treated with extreme condescension by the male-dominated cultural establishment. Mixing biography, literary criticism, and cultural history, Sharp is a testament to how anyone who feels powerless can claim the mantle of writer, and, perhaps, change the world.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780802129246
Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
Publication date: 02/19/2019
Pages: 384
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x (d)

About the Author

Michelle Dean is a journalist, critic, and the recipient of the National Book Critics Circle’s 2016 Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing. A contributing editor at the New Republic, she has written for the New Yorker, Nation, New York Times Magazine, Slate, New York Magazine, Elle, Harper’s, and BuzzFeed. She lives in Los Angeles.

Read an Excerpt

I gathered the women in this book under the sign of a compliment that every one of them received in their lives: they were called sharp.

The precise nature of their gifts varied, but they had in common the ability to write unforgettably. The world would not have been the same without Dorothy Parker’s acid reflections on the absurdities of her life. Or Rebecca West’s ability to sweep half the world’s history into a first-person account of a single trip. Or Hannah Arendt’s ideas about totalitarianism, or Mary McCarthy’s fiction that took as its subject the strange consciousness of the princess among the trolls. Or Sontag’s ideas about interpretation, or Pauline Kael’s energetic swipes at filmmakers. Or Ephron’s skepticism about the feminist movement, or Renata Adler’s catalog of the foibles of those in power. Or Janet Malcolm’s reflections on the perils and rewards of psychoanalysis and journalism.


I wrote this book because this history has never been as well-known as it deserves to be, at least outside certain isolated precincts of New York. The forward march of American literature is usually chronicled by way of its male novelists: the Hemingways and Fitzgeralds, the Roths and Bellows and Salingers. There is little sense, in that version of the story, that women writers of those eras were doing much worth remembering. Even in more academic accounts, in “intellectual histories,” it is generally assumed that men dominated the scene. Certainly, the so-called New York intellectuals of the mid-twentieth century are often identified as a male set. But my research showed otherwise. Men might have outnumbered women, demographically. But in the arguably more crucial matter of producing work worth remembering, the work that defined the terms of their scene, the women were right up to par—and often beyond it.