Elaine Showalter at the TLS:
Among the memorable stories in Benjamin Moser’s engrossing, unsettling biography of Susan Sontag, an observation by the writer Jamaica Kincaid stands out indelibly. In 1982, Sontag’s beloved thirty-year-old son David Rieff endured a number of major crises: cocaine addiction, job loss, romantic break-up, cancer scare and nervous breakdown. At that point, Moser writes, Sontag “scampered off to Italy” with her new lover, the dancer and choreographer Lucinda Childs. “We couldn’t really believe she was getting on the plane”, Kincaid told Moser. She and her husband Allen Shawn took David into their home for six months to recover. Later she searched for words to characterize Sontag’s behaviour: “Yes, she was cruel, and so on, but she was also very kind. She was just a great person. I don’t think I ever wanted to be a great person after I met Susan”.
In 2013, when Moser signed up to write Sontag’s authorized biography, he took on a hazardous task: how to recount the eventful life, influential ideas and significant achievements of a legendary public intellectual, and assess the overall legacy of an outrageous, infuriating great person?