Since her death in 2004, there have been several biographies written about Susan Sontag, each taking a slightly different approach to the life of one of the most important literary critics, public intellectuals, and cultural icons of the twentieth century. While Benjamin Moser’s new book Sontag: Her Life and Work (Ecco, $39.99) is not the first, it is the only authorized account of the critic’s life, as well as the most comprehensive. David Rieff, Sontag’s son and frequent editor, allowed Moser unprecedented access to her unpublished diaries, letters, and ephemera. Moser interviewed her friends, family, former lovers—including her partner, the legendary photographer Annie Leibovitz—and even the hair stylist who created Sontag’s trademark white streak following her first bout with cancer. Meticulously researched and richly detailed, Moser’s work sheds light on the two contradictory sides of Susan Sontag: the deeply insecure writer struggling to overcome self-doubt, and the often arrogant, always chic public persona. Moser’s previous work, Why This World: A Biography of Clarice Lispector was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, and Sontag is already gaining wide critical attention.
Roland Barthes’ Camera Lucida is one of the most influential books on the philosophy of photography. It’s about how we look at and make meaning of photos, both as images and objects. On the surface, it reads like a short survey of major photographers from Daguerre and Nadar to Maplethorpe and Van Der Zee, but at its core, Camera Lucida is a book about mourning, written after his mother’s death as he looks through boxes of photos from her life. For an intellectual icon know for dense, theoretical prose, Camera Lucida stands apart as a brief, lyrical, and, at times, intimate examination of loss.