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Never Say You've Had a Lucky Life

Especially If You've Had a Lucky Life

About The Book

A rich and comic portrait of the radical changes in American life and the literary world over the last eighty years.

An autobiography usually requires a justification. The great autobiographies—those by Benvenuto Cellini, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Benjamin Franklin, and Henry Brooks Adams—were justified by their authors living in interesting times, harboring radically new ideas, or participating in great events. Joseph Epstein qualifies on none of these counts. His life has been quiet, lucky in numerous ways, and far from dramatic. But it has also been emblematic of the great changes in our country since World War II.

He grew up in a petit-bourgeois, Midwestern milieu, and the city of Chicago looms large in his life. He drew a lucky ticket in the parent lottery and his was a happy boyhood spent on playgrounds and hanging around drug stores. At high school dances, he was the rhumba king and at drive-in movies he was never allowed to go as far with girls as he so ardently desired. At twenty-six, after two years in the army, he found himself married, the father or stepfather of four children, and living in New York on the meager salary of a magazine subeditor. He was ablaze with ambition and fettered by frustration. He broke out by moving to Little Rock, Arkansas, to direct the city’s anti-poverty program at the height of the Civil Rights movement. His writing career blossomed, he began teaching at Northwestern University, and, for twenty-five years, edited one of great intellectual magazines.

Never Say You’ve Had a Lucky Life is an intimate look at one life steeped in radical change: from a traditionally moral culture to a therapeutic one, from an era when the extended family was strong to its current diminished status, from print to digital life featuring the war of pixel on print, and on. But for all the seriousness of Epstein’s themes, this book is memorable for its comic point of view and the constant reminder of how unpredictable, various, and wondrously rich life can be.

About The Author

Photograph © Annabelle Epstein Davis

Joseph Epstein is the author of thirty-one books, among them works on divorce, ambition, snobbery, friendship, envy, and gossip. He has published seventeen collections of essays and four books of short stories. He has been the editor of the American Scholar, the intellectual quarterly of Phi Beta Kappa, and for thirty years he taught in the English Department at Northwestern University. He has written for The New YorkerCommentary, New Criterion, Times Literary Supplement, Claremont Review of Books, The New York Review of Books, Poetry, and other magazines both in the United States and abroad. In 2003, he was awarded the National Humanities Medal.


Product Details

  • Publisher: Free Press (April 16, 2024)
  • Length: 304 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781668009673

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Raves and Reviews

“Playful and bookish, the reflections of a wry observer alternately amused and appalled by the world’s never-ending carnival.”
—Michael Dirda, The Washington Post

“Discursive, learned, often funny and always satisfying.”
The Wall Street Journal

“Very lucky for us is that we have Joseph Epstein and all his brilliant writings. Read them, buy the books, and buy his memoir.”

“the one thing we know most certainly about Joseph Epstein, who at age 87 is still adding to an oeuvre of truly remarkable dimensions and consistently high merit, is that taste is the guy’s middle name.”
Bruce Bawer, The American Spectator

“[Epstein’s] published more than 30 books, and you can’t do that unless you’ve made a lot of readers happy.”
The New York Times

“[Epstein] is that rarest of beings—the serious man who doesn’t take himself too seriously.”
National Review

“Epstein’s books are really long essays, and his essays in turn follow the logic of anecdotes, a form that he has mastered better than anyone I have ever read.”
The Washington Free Beacon

“Great good luck I’d call this [book], both for Epstein and for his readers.
The American Spectator

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