Patricia Bosworth at The New York Times:
On Sept. 12, 1977, Robert Lowell, the most distinguished American postwar poet, died quietly and very suddenly in the back seat of a Manhattan yellow cab. He was 60 years old.
A towering figure in the world of letters — a two-time Pulitzer winner and the successor to Ezra Pound — Lowell carved a niche with reams of innovative poetry he churned out in bold, often experimental styles. His subjects were wide-ranging and epic: the Greek myths, the American Revolution. Fire is a recurring motif, along with themes like good and evil or friendship and death.
Most remarkable, though, is the fact that for decades, on and off, Lowell suffered from extreme bipolar disorder; he composed many of his best verses while stark raving mad. This is the subject of Kay Redfield Jamison’s ambitious new book, “Robert Lowell, Setting the River on Fire.” Subtitled “A Study of Genius, Mania, and Character,” the book is not a traditional biography, Jamison says, but a “psychological account” of Lowell’s life and mind as well as “a narrative of the illness that so affected him.”