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Philip Roth Return to the Timeline
Philip Roth talking to waiter at a lunch counter in his hometown, Newark, New Jersey.
Philip Roth talking to waiter at a lunch spot in his hometown, Newark, New Jersey.

Bob Peterson/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images
Philip Roth, (1933-...), is an American writer known for his frank, comic, and often satirical portraits of modern Jewish society and family life in the United States. Roth first gained fame for GOODBYE, COLUMBUS (1959), a collection of five short stories and a short novel. In the title short novel, Roth explored the material attractions and spiritual costs he saw in suburban upper-class Jewish life.

Roth's most famous novel is PORTNOY'S COMPLAINT (1969). Critics have praised it as a funny, intimate, and accurate study of the guilt feelings of a typical American Jewish son. The book generated controversy because of its explicit sexual descriptions, which Roth would return to in his novel SABBATH'S THEATER (1995).

Roth featured the artistic and psychological struggles of a Jewish American author named Nathan Zuckerman in several works. Zuckerman is the central character in the novels THE GHOST WRITER (1979), ZUCKERMAN UNBOUND (1981), and THE ANATOMY LESSON (1983). The three novels were issued along with the story "The Prague Orgy" as Zuckerman Bound (1985).

A fourth Zuckerman novel, THE COUNTERLIFE, was published in 1986. Zuckerman also narrates THE HUMAN STAIN (2000), in which racial, sexual, and academic politics collide. The novel makes up a trilogy along with AMERICAN PASTORAL (1997) and I MARRIED A COMMUNIST (1998) that investigates important political and social conflicts after the end of World War II in 1945.

In the novels THE FACTS (1988), DECEPTION (1990), and PATRIMONY (1991), Roth explored the uncertain territory between autobiography and fiction. The narrator of THE PLOT AGAINST AMERICA (2004) is the author, Roth, as a young man. The novel considers an alternative history in which the famed aviator Charles Lindbergh defeats Franklin D. Roosevelt for the presidency of the United States in 1940. Roth's other novels include LETTING GO (1962), WHEN SHE WAS GOOD (1967), OUR GANG (1971), THE GREAT AMERICAN NOVEL (1973), MY LIFE AS A MAN (1974), THE PROFESSOR OF DESIRE (1977), OPERATION SHYLOCK (1993), THE DYING ANIMAL (2001), and EVERYMAN (2006).

Philip Milton Roth was born on March 19, 1933, in Newark, New Jersey. He graduated from Bucknell University in 1954 and received a master's degree in English literature from the University of Chicago in 1955.

Contributor:
Arthur M. Saltzman, Ph.D., Professor of English, Missouri Southern State College.

From THE WORLD BOOK ENCYCLOPEDIA © 2007 World Book, Inc. By permission of the publisher. Visit World Book Encyclopedia for more information on Philip Roth and related subjects.


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The American Novel