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Download Robert Lowell, Setting the River on Fire: A Study of Genius, Mania, and Character Audiobook

Extended Audio Sample Robert Lowell, Setting the River on Fire: A Study of Genius, Mania, and Character Audiobook, by Kay Redfield Jamison Click for printable size audiobook cover
0 out of 50 out of 50 out of 50 out of 50 out of 5 0.00 (0 ratings) (rate this audio book) Author: Kay Redfield Jamison Narrator: Jefferson Mays Publisher: Penguin Random House Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date: February 2017 ISBN: 9781524755867
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In this magisterial study of the relationship between illness and art, best-selling author Kay Redfield Jamison brings an entirely fresh understanding to the work and life of Robert Lowell, whose intense, complex, and personal verse left a lasting mark on the English language and changed the public discourse about private matters.

In his Pulitzer Prize-winning poetry, Robert Lowell put his manic-depressive illness, now known as bipolar disorder, into the public domain, creating a language for madness that was new and arresting. As Dr. Jamison brings her expertise in mood disorders to bear on Lowell’s story, she illuminates not only the relationships among mania, depression, and creativity but also the details of Lowell’s treatment and how illness and treatment influenced the great work that he produced (and often became its subject). Lowell’s New England roots, early breakdowns, marriages to three eminent writers, friendships with other poets such as Elizabeth Bishop, his many hospitalizations, his vivid presence as both a teacher and a maker of poems—Jamison gives us the poet’s life through a lens that focuses our understanding of his intense discipline, courage, and commitment to his art. Jamison had unprecedented access to Lowell’s medical records, as well as to previously unpublished drafts and fragments of poems, and she is the first biographer to have spoken with his daughter, Harriet Lowell. With this new material and a psychologist’s deep insight, Jamison delivers a bold, sympathetic account of a poet who was—both despite and because of mental illness—a passionate, original observer of the human condition.

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Quotes & Awards

  • “Narrator Jefferson Mays does a solid job with the text, which includes a great deal of prose and poetry from Lowell himself, as as well as from his friends…Lowell’s prose overshadows Jamison’s, but Mays gives the work of both writers appropriate weight, and he is particularly good with the poetry. For an extra treat, the book ends with Lowell reading one of his own poems, ‘Epilogue.’”


  • Impassioned . . . A remarkably poignant, in-depth . . . look at the making of art. Daphne Merkin. The Wall Street Journal
  • Jamison’s understanding of literature is also ‘fast, compound, legendary’; she draws from a vast knowledge while disclosing this larger than life poet who was loved, hated, and because of brain chemistry, often misunderstood. In addition to the luminaries quoted, her account is enhanced by memories offered by his daughter Harriet Lowell, and the inclusion of previously unreleased medical records that chart his, and his many relatives’, experience with mental illness. Valerie Duff, The Boston Globe
  • Intellectually thrilling . . . Achieves a magnificence and intensity that sets it apart . . . Above all, the book demands that readers seriously engage with its arguments, while also prodding them to reexamine their own beliefs about art, madness, and moral responsibility. Michael Dirda, The Washington Post
  • [A] superb examination of manic depression and its connection with creativity. The Seattle Times
  • Robert Lowell was a constantly searching, restlessly inventive artist who courageously wrestled with bipolar illness all his life. Kay Jamison’s deeply considered, deeply empathetic reading of Lowell’s life and work gives us a revolutionary, richly nuanced way of understanding both a major writer’s career and the sources and processes of creativity itself. We needed this book. Jonathan Galassi
  • Remarkable . . . Absorbing . . . Jamison approaches Lowell’s vexed life not only with scholarly authority but also with literary talent and confidence . . . One reads this biography—so full of incident—as one would read a novel, led by each page to the next, fearing and hoping as one follows the excruciating volatility of Lowell’s life and the unpredictable evolution of his art. Helen Vendler, The New York Review of Books
  • [A] journey into and alongside the mind and poetry of the American poet Robert Lowell . . . An illuminating and, at times, heartbreaking account . . . Jamison does not dilute art to adorn science or try to bend science to art. Instead, she unites scientific and artistic sensibilities in an ambitious and honest effort to understand human experience. Caleb Gardner, The Lancet
  • A magnificent biography . . . Sympathetic, compassionate and often lyrically stunning . . . My wariness of such psychobiographies is that the subject will be reduced to a case study, all too tidily explained. Jamison, however, preserves the mysteries. Sam Coale, The Providence Journal
  • The best book so far about one of our most polarizing contemporary literary figures. Craig Teicher, Los Angeles Times
  • Seldom if ever has there been such a neat match between author and subject as in this penetrating study . . . Exceptionally nuanced. Martin Rubin, The Washington Times
  • Groundbreaking . . . A real contribution to the literary history of New England . . . A case study of what a person with an extraordinary will, an unwavering sense of vocation, and a huge talent . . . could and could not do about the fact that the defining feature of his gift was also the source of his suffering. Dan Chiasson, The New Yorker
  • “A remarkable look into the life and mind of a genius Matt McCarthy, USA Today
  • “Incandescent writing . . . [Jamison] affirms her scholarship of the highest order, analyzes the conjoined world of manic-depressive illness and creativity with imagination, [and] demonstrates a brilliant use of language and image . . . Her humanity and innate generosity of spirit remind us of Menninger’s injunction, ‘When in doubt, be human.’ Gordon Parker, American Journal of Psychiatry
  • A landmark analysis of the disease that molded a brilliant man, and an immensely moving book . . . [Robert Lowell] is the perfect subject for Jamison’s superb examination of manic depression and its influence, for good and ill, on creativity. Mary Ann Gwinn, Booklist
  • Jamison has constructed a novel and rewarding way to view Lowell’s life and output. Publishers Weekly
  • An intimate, sensitive, and perceptive account of the illness from which poet Robert Lowell suffered most of his life. Kirkus Reviews
  • A dazzling combination: the brilliant Robert Lowell read by the brilliant Kay Jamison, who writes a book for the ages: poignant, ambitious, and big-hearted, about friendship, history, and the mad dance of mind that Lowell faced with supreme courage, all the while producing some of the most haunting lyrics of the twentieth century. Jamison on Lowell: read it to learn, with humility, how to live. Brenda Wineapple
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About the Author
Author Kay Redfield Jamison

Kay Redfield Jamison is a professor of psychiatry at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and codirector of the Johns Hopkins Mood Disorders Center. She is the author of the national bestsellers An Unquiet Mind and Night Falls Fast, coauthor of the standard medical text on manic-depressive (bipolar) illness, and the author or coauthor of more than one hundred scientific papers about mood disorders, creativity, and psychopharmacology. She has received numerous national and international scientific awards and a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Fellowship.

About the Narrator

Jefferson Mays has won two AudioFile Earphones Awards for his audio narrations. He is also an award-winning theater and film actor. In 2004 he won a Tony Award, a Drama Desk Award, an Obie Award, and a Theatre World Award for his solo Broadway performance in I Am My Own Wife, a Pulitzer Prize–winning play by Doug Wright. He holds a BA from Yale College and an MFA from University of California–San Diego.