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Discover an American masterpiece. This unassuming story about the life of a quiet English professor has earned the admiration of readers all over the globe.


William Stoner is born at the end of the nineteenth century into a dirt-poor Missouri farming family. Sent to the state university to study agronomy, he instead falls in love with English literature and embraces a scholar’s life, so different from the hardscrabble existence he has known. And yet as the years pass, Stoner encounters a succession of disappointments: marriage into a “proper” family estranges him from his parents; his career is stymied; his wife and daughter turn coldly away from him; a transforming experience of new love ends under threat of scandal. Driven ever deeper within himself, Stoner rediscovers the stoic silence of his forebears and confronts an essential solitude.


John Williams’s luminous and deeply moving novel is a work of quiet perfection. William Stoner emerges from it not only as an archetypal American, but as an unlikely existential hero, standing, like a figure in a painting by Edward Hopper, in stark relief against an unforgiving world.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781590171998
Publisher: New York Review Books
Publication date: 06/20/2006
Series: NYRB Classics Series
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 26,554
Product dimensions: 5.02(w) x 7.95(h) x 0.63(d)

About the Author

John Williams (1922-1994) was born and raised in northeast Texas. Despite a talent for writing and acting, Williams flunked out of a local junior college after his first year. He reluctantly joined the war effort, enlisting in the Army Air Corps, and managing to write a draft of his first novel while there. Once home, Williams found a small publisher for the novel and enrolled at the University of Denver, where he was eventually to receive both his B.A. and M.A., and where he was to return as an instructor in 1954. Williams remained on the staff of the creative writing program at the University of Denver until his retirement in 1985. During these years, he was an active guest lecturer and writer, publishing two volumes of poetry and three novels, Butcher’s Crossing, Stoner, and the National Book Award–winning Augustus.

John McGahern (1934-2006) was one of the most acclaimed Irish writers of his generation. His work, including six novels and four collections of short stories, often centered on the Irish predicament, both political and temperamental. Amongst Women, his best-known book, was shortlisted for the Booker Prize and made into a popular miniseries. His last book, the memoir All Will Be Well, was published shortly before his death.

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Stoner 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 56 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a book that should be on the book lists for most high school and college literature programs. Stoner is great literature and an instructive life lesson on how one man stoically accepts and overcomes what life has thrown at him. Stoner is the 'Job' of the early 20th century. A very enjoyable and easy read...
eenreads More than 1 year ago
Author John Williams was asked who would want to read the sad story of a University of Missouri English Literature Professor during the early to mid 1900's? SURPRISE...many many readers! It's a captivating story. IT was selected as our Book Club read and what a gem. The story of this Missouri man, his wife, his daughter and all the connections he has to his students and teaching job will quickly wrap you into his world. William Stoner is like an 'everyman' of those times. His wife is an example of the shallow, mean spirited empty life of a housewife of those times. The conflict Stoner has with his Dean and other Professors could easily have happened. They story is believeable, enjoyable and you just get sucked in to wanting to learn more about the pathetic life of Stoner.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
William Stoner, the protagonist, will remain in the imagination of the reader long after the final page has been turned: this man's arduous life is saved by his "love affair" with the English language and the result is 288 pages of delicious prose.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I was sucked into 'Stoner' within the first few sentences. The characters are believable and their situations -- though heart-rending -- are presented with such skill, such beautiful effortless prose, that I experienced powerful emotional reactions, which for me indicates a great book. I felt a strong connection with Stoner -- there's much of him inside of me. I bought copies for all of my friends.
Gurdonark More than 1 year ago
The novel Stoner is sometimes described as the story of an ordinary man. Yet this description minimizes the author's achievement. In Stoner, John Williams tells a narrative biography of a farmboy who becomes a professor. He does so in spare, reflective text that never condescends to the characters or the reader, and never goes astray. The result is a a novel which is both an old-fashioned "good read" and a thoughtful examination of finding one's way amid difficult challenges. Stoner is not Mr. Chips, nor Job, nor a heroic figure. The author instead presents a man who makes choices, both wise and unwise, and lives them out. There's a quiet kind of nobility in the character of Stoner, and the novel holds the reader's interest by exploring it.
anne40 More than 1 year ago
This is a wonderful character study and a book you will not want to put down. The writing is superb as is the story. I plan to read it again. John William's other two books are not as compelling but still wonderful books.
BurtShulman More than 1 year ago
After finishing this book I was amazed that I'd never heard of Williams before NYRB's re-discovery. For me, he proves to be a rare prose master just on the strength of this book (he wrote others but I haven't yet read them). The prose isn't showy, but is pitch-perfect in its alignment with its protagonist. The reading experience becomes exhilarating largely because of the precision of the prose -- which is perhaps even more remarkable, in my opinion, than Williams's darkly wonderful contemporary Richard Yates. Williams manages to impart a sense of hope to what could have easily come off as a lonely, even desolate life.
TheReadingWriter More than 1 year ago
This book has no extra words. The scenes are drawn with a sensitivity and skill that made me squirm with remembered anguish. The disquiet we feel when Stoner's father stares long and hard at Stoner's financée and makes an assessment, the brutal and pointless faculty fights in college departments, the uncertainty and unreasonable joy one feels before one's love is declared--these things so precisely described are authentic truths we can all recognize. Tightly written, and polished reverently, Williams creates a fictional world that feels so real we ache with despair. It is a primer for writers, and a lesson for readers. It deserves to be read widely.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The book moves you and stay with you even though some of the characters, like Edith, seem implausible and others, like Lomax, to obviously drawn like a caricature. But the book has a strange power within it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
One of the beat ever written a classic
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Slow read that picks up intensity with every chapter
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Reading this, I thought at first that these circumstances would be so different today. But they would not. People still marry the wrong partner and encounter manipulative and vindictive bosses. We still get stuck. It left me feeling sad but determined to never fear following my heart.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
michaelbartley on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
this is a wonderful powerful novel i am so glad that i discovered it. the story of a man, in many ways a everyday man that lives a life that is less then he hoped for. an unhappy marriage, a career that is at best so so. a distance parent, not his desire but what happen. the only real joy was a love affair that ended badly yet he continues to solider on i really loved this book
LarryDarrell on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
One of the best books I have read. Beautifully written story of one man's life-long development. Incredibly sad, incredibly smart.
browner56 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
There is an old joke in academic circles that goes something like this: Q. Why is the political in-fighting at a university so nasty and bitter? A. Because the stakes are so low. I¿m not sure how funny that actually is, but anyone who has spent any time on a college faculty can certainly attest to its veracity. There is no doubt that William Stoner, the unlikely protagonist of this oddly captivating novel, certainly can.Stoner arrives at college to study agriculture in order to help on his family¿s farm but quickly develops a love of literature that eventually carries him onto the English Department faculty and sets him on a lifelong path of teaching and learning. However, the introspective nature of that path leaves him ill-equipped to deal with realities around him: he is trapped in a loveless marriage to a woman who uses his cherished daughter as a weapon against him and he develops a powerful enemy on the faculty who makes most of his forty-year professional career difficult, to say the least. Even the one respite Stoner has from the soul-crushing nature of his existence¿a touchingly rendered love affair that comes in middle age¿falls victim to office politics.This is a beautifully written book and one of the most compelling character studies that I have ever read. In telling Stoner¿s life story, John Williams displays great compassion but never flinches as he chronicles all of the professional disappointments and missed opportunities that marked his hero¿s personal life. Still, it would be wrong to conclude that this is a wholly sad novel. Williams¿ spare and moving prose makes it clear that Stoner has led the life of his own choosing. That it isn¿t quite the life we as readers would have wanted for him is ultimately a testament to how deeply the author makes us care.
blackandamber on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Finely written though slightly depressing story of the entire life of a gentle, passive university lecturer in the first part of the 20th century
kewing on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The spare language and word choices make this novel a joy to read. Despite the sad, somber, sober tone and atmosphere, the novel was immediately engaging. The remote and icey personal relations, the brutal skirmishes of academe, a brief passion for life and scholarship--all wrapped in Williams perfect pitch storytelling: there is little sense of desperation in this quiet life. Stoner has been too long neglected.
JimmyChanga on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is the most straight-forward linear narrative type of novel I've read in the past year. So at first, I was not impressed. But I soon realized that the novel is impressive precisely because it is able to be so damn linear, the writing style so damn plain, and the characters so damn dull and yet... and yet it manages to make me continue reading on, driven by what I don't know. There is a constant melancholy through the book, but also its points of light.So that was the first 100 pages or so. Then it gets good. I mean, really good. But I don't know why. Nothing that much changes, it is just events in the life of this guy. But I start to really care about him, or really understand him... or something. Let me just put it out there: this is a depressing novel. It is a devastating novel. It made me cry. But it is not one where horrible thing after horrible thing happens to good people. Many of the things that happen are... yes, horrible, but also very normal... they are more like small dissappointments.John Williams is able to kill you softly with his immovable patience, his prose which is like the most patient thing in the world, and which builds and builds by inching closer and closer to the precipice. Precisely because he is not flashy. Precisely because he is so restrained in his prose, that you never realize it when you're right on the edge of the cliff and you're like "wait, how did I get here?"Also: I don't mean to suggest that his prose is boring. His prose is beautiful. But straight forward. And very functional. It is in service to the subject matter. And the fact that it is not flashy 95% of the time makes it all the more devastating the other 5% of the time, when he floors it as in this passage:"Years later it was to occur to him that in that hour and a half on that December evening of their first extended time together, she told him more about herself than she ever told him again. And when it was over, he felt that they were strangers in a way that he had not thought they would be, and he knew that he was in love." p53or in this passage:"It was a passion neither of the mind nor of the flesh; rather, it was a force that comprehended them both, as if they were but the matter of love, its specific substance. To a woman or to a poem, it said simply: Look! I am alive." p 250I've rambled long enough. Let me just say a few more things, because I'm a bit delirious. The characters. They are complex and blameless. That is part of the devastation. You can't blame them for the decisions they make. Each one, even the ones that make our protagonist's life hell, you can't blame them because the writer makes you understand (slowly) why they are the way they are. What drives each character to drive each other mad. I read on one of these goodreads reviews someone said "It only troubles me that every single thing that Stoner thinks and says and does seems so incredibly right, or at least perfectly understandable, on first reading." That's what I mean. He didn't do anything wrong. Everything he does is understandable. He was just being himself the best way he knew how. And so was every character in this book.
jwhenderson on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Over the last few years The New York Review of Books has published classic fiction and non-fiction in their New York Review Books (nyrb) imprint. The quality of these books is such that I have found I can almost pick a book from the series at random knowing that it will be a good book. The novel Stoner by John Williams is one from this series that is by an author unknown to me prior to finding it in the nyrb collection. Once again I was not disappointed for this is a gem of a novel written in a beautiful style. Williams has created a protagonist in William Stoner who is interesting in spite of his fundamental flaws, melancholy nature and ultimately sad life. This novel can best be described as a classical tragedy where the hero, like Oedipus or Hamlet, is defeated by his tragic flaws. The perfection of Williams' style makes both the events of the story believable (including his difficult marriage and heartbreaking love affair) and each page beautiful.
wunderkind on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I really wanted to love this book, but I ended up with really mixed feelings. The plot is pretty simple: William Stoner is born to a farming family in Missouri in the late 1800s, grows up to be an English professor at the University of Missouri, progresses through his career and life, and dies. I wanted this to be a profound meditation on life and relationships, and in a way it is; it's just that the views expressed are ones I philosophically disagree with. Stoner is kind, stoic, and really, really passive, to the point where I ended up almost not caring what happened to him. Whenever Stoner's life starts to go in a direction he doesn't like, he does nothing to stop it, even if he feels a flicker of anger or frustration. He has moments of happiness, but they always seemed accepted, never earned. I did not empathize with Stoner, or with any of the characters in the book. The thing is, Williams is a very good writer, and there are a few passages about love that are just beautiful, but I don't like his worldview. Maybe it's because I'm young and naive, but I think that things worth having (like love, family, friendship, and meaning in life) are worth fighting for, or at least worth exerting effort over, if "fighting" is too violent a way to put it. Interestingly, a few of the characters in "Stoner" reminded me of my great-grandparents, based on what I have been told about them, so maybe the sort of weary acceptance of less-than-desirable situations is something characteristic of an earlier generation, which John Williams might have just been a representative of. So "Stoner" may not have been my cup of tea, but I'm glad I read it; it wasn't inspiring or exactly enjoyable, but it's given me a lot to think about.
mckall08 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
William Stoner is a farmboy from a small town in Missouri. His family sacrifices to give him an education and he is accepted at the University of Missouri. As he pursues his studies, an iconoclastic English professor, perhaps seeing something of himself in Stoner, mentors him, and sets him onto a teaching career.William Stoner is teacher and later a professor at a southern university. Throughout a career, spanning two world wars, he's willing to sacrifice personal relations and professional advancement rather than compromise his sense of academic integrity. While the reader may cry out for a real battle, it never happens on the outside. Despite almost certain loss of his career and family, he never wavers from steadfast adherence to his core beliefs.
icolford on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Classic novel of academia. William Stoner, raised in rural Missouri, attends college, falls in love with English literature, and turns his back on his family's way of life. Over the years he grows apart from his wife and daughter, and an academic career that begins with great promise falls prey to numerous small disappointments and the pettiness of departmental politics. At the end he is alone, distanced from all he holds dear. A wise and profound novel of an ordinary man's struggle to maintain his dignity against a world that won't give him an inch.
Cygnus555 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Outstanding work of literature. A Friend loaned this to me and I am loathe to give it back. I will have to get my own copy. After reading the first paragraph, I wondered how I could find my self caring about this character - but I did and could not stop reading. Tender, real, powerful - Stoner is a true hero.
yooperprof on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
(I have a very different viewpoint from most reviewers. This book was real drudgery for me, largely because I found the main character - really the only character in the book - to be extremely unsympathetic.)Do you want to know what a passive-aggressive college professor is like? Read this book. Stoner is actually one of the more fortunate individuals in the 20th century, born a white man in middle America, with a good brain, reasonably good looks, and access to affordable quality education. Although you would not know it from reading this book, he lives in the middle of a deeply racist, classist, and misogynist society, but he takes his privileges completely for granted, just as the author seems to. He drifts through life, taking the path of least resistance, falling into a pattern of poor life choices. After making a failure of a marriage, failing as a father, and failing to connect with any of his students, he has a failed loved affair. Meanwhile, he develops no interests in anything outside his tiny solipsistic world. After living through two world wars without any great suffering, he reaches retirement age feeling immensely sorry for himself, and then suitably dies of cancer. Really, if this is what teaching medieval literature will do for a person, it's a shame that Stoner didn't stick with agronomy. Oh, and you'd probably be better off doing some gardening instead of reading this book. (Yes, there are some effectively sparse "writerly" passages that nicely reflect the bleakness of midwestern winters.)