• The Most Dangerous Book

  • The Battle for James Joyce's Ulysses
  • By: Kevin Birmingham
  • Narrated by: John Keating
  • Length: 14 hrs and 22 mins
  • 4.5 out of 5 stars (138 ratings)

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The Most Dangerous Book

By: Kevin Birmingham
Narrated by: John Keating
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Publisher's Summary

For more than a decade, the book that literary critics now consider the most important novel in the English language was illegal to own, sell, advertise or purchase in most of the English-speaking world. James Joyce's big blue book, Ulysses, ushered in the modernist era and changed the novel for all time. But the genius of Ulysses was also its danger: it omitted absolutely nothing. All of the minutiae of Leopold Bloom's day, including its unspeakable details, unfold with careful precision in its pages. The New York Society for the Suppression of Vice immediately banned the novel as "obscene, lewd, and lascivious". Joyce, along with some of the most important publishers and writers of his era, had to fight for years to win the freedom to publish it. The Most Dangerous Book tells the remarkable story surrounding Ulysses, from the first stirrings of Joyce's inspiration in 1904 to its landmark federal obscenity trial in 1933.

Literary historian Kevin Birmingham follows Joyce's years as a young writer, his feverish work on his literary masterpiece, and his ardent love affair with Nora Barnacle, the model for Molly Bloom. Joyce and Nora socialized with literary greats like Ezra Pound, Ernest Hemingway, T. S. Eliot and Sylvia Beach. Their support helped Joyce fight an array of anti-vice crusaders while his book was disguised and smuggled, pirated and burned in the United States and Britain. The long struggle for publication added to the growing pressures of Joyce's deteriorating eyesight, finances and home life.

Birmingham's archival work brings to light new information about both Joyce and the story surrounding Ulysses. Written for ardent Joyceans as well as novices who want to get to the heart of the greatest novel of the 20th century, The Most Dangerous Book is a gripping examination of how the world came to say yes to Ulysses.

©2014 Kevin Birmingham (P)2014 Penguin Audio

Critic Reviews

"Kevin Birmingham’s new book about the long censorship fight over James Joyce’s Ulysses braids eight or nine good stories into one mighty strand... The best story that’s told… may be that of the arrival of a significant young nonfiction writer. Mr. Birmingham, a lecturer in history and literature at Harvard, appears fully formed in this, his first book. The historian and the writer in him are utterly in sync. He marches through this material with authority and grace, an instinct for detail and smacking quotation and a fair amount of wit. It’s a measured yet bravura performance." (Dwight Garner, The New York Times)

"Birmingham has produced an excellent work of consolidation.... [A] lively history.... The Most Dangerous Book is impressively researched and especially useful for its meticulous accounts of various legal battles. It is meant to be fun to read and, setting aside my fogeyish cavils, it is." (Michael Dirda, The Washington Post)

"[G]ripping. Like the novel which it takes as its subject, it deserves to be read." (The Economist)

What listeners say about The Most Dangerous Book

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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Excellent and Informative

This book made my annual Bloomsday read of Ulysses even more meaningful. I gained new insight into Joyce and the struggle to get the greatest novel written published.

This book gives a lot more detail about the struggle with health that Joyce went through. Most biographies somewhat gloss over the health problems and especially the root cause of his eye problems: syphilis. The book makes me wonder about his daughter's madness. Certainly Joyce's wife contracted the disease and likely passed it to the children since both were born prior to the development of antibiotics. Was Lucia's madness a result of syphilis?

This is well presented though the pronunciation at times seems dicey. I swear the reader mispronounces the name of the very book, Ulysses, for the first 2/3rds of the book. Then, almost as though someone catches it, he starts pronouncing it correctly.

What do you think? Am I hearing it wrong?

Anyway, I highly recommend this book if you're a Joyce fan.

7 people found this helpful

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Fascinating combination of literature and history

You cannot fully appreciate Ulysses without first understanding the times in which it was written and published. The Most Dangerous Book does both extremely well. I have a much deeper understanding of the immense task it was to bring Ulysses to the world and the impact it had on all of us to this day. A great read.

4 people found this helpful

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More than just a biography of a book...

but, telling explanation of our progress and status as a civilization. Really, that's what I got from this book!


There.

3 people found this helpful

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I now understand the origins of Modernism.

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

Yes. Incredibly researched, wonderful passages, terrific reading.

What was one of the most memorable moments of The Most Dangerous Book?

The irony of learning that it was the pirated copy that was first legalized in the United States.

Which character – as performed by John Keating – was your favorite?

NA

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

There were a great many. I was particularly moved by Joyce's persistence-- and by the a-ha moment of understanding his focus on form.

3 people found this helpful

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a great book about a great book

What did you like best about this story?

this is about james joyce's struggle against censorship, being alone against a lot of troubles and enemies. he was in exile abroad, had few friends an no money at all most of the time. and the remarkable thing is: he did not give in. otherwise ulysses would never have seen the light of day.

2 people found this helpful

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Might just create some more Joyce fans

This very readable and bawdy biography of the bawdy book Ulysses is also enough of Joyce's own story that I finally feel I don't really need to open the Ellmann biography that's been sitting on my shelf for many years. There's so much great stuff here about Beach, Hemingway, Cerf, and of course Barnacle - and other important characters I'd never heard of. Birmingham's book is so entertaining that it might just persuade readers to finally tackle - and enjoy - Ulysses. Unlike another reader, I like Keating and his Quirkes (although where's Timothy Dalton? But, in the spirit of Mr. Joyce, I digress).

2 people found this helpful

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Incredibly well written, informative, and performed

The performance for this book by John Keating was incredible, for several days after listening to the work I found myself narrating in his methodical, well measured cadence when reading. The work itself is perfect for any Joyce/Ulysses fan unfamiliar with its real world history. I was astounded to learn about its arduous path to legal acceptance, despite being then acknowledged as one of the century’s most important books.

1 person found this helpful

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wonderful and great

very good job
thanks those people who struggled for freedom on many occasions. so we can enjoy lots of fun

1 person found this helpful

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Astonishing

Quite simply the best book about a book out there.
The narrator is beyond competent. His rhythm and enthusiasm carry you.

1 person found this helpful

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couldn't get past this narrator

Very interesting subject, probably well-written...but I couldn't listen longer than 90 minutes. John Keating has also ruined the Quirke books by Benjamin Black/John Banville. He has a bouncy inflection that never changes from paragraph to paragraph, character to character, or book to book.

1 person found this helpful