Philip Roth: explorer of a golden age’s dark corners

Roth’s work evokes the sense of endless opportunity postwar America seemed to promise

The legend of Philip Roth had become so great, it was almost a shock to be reminded that he was, until Tuesday, still a living writer. He had become part of the Mount Rushmore of American letters, hailed by the New York Times as “the last of the great white males”, his place secure alongside Saul Bellow and John Updike, themselves both long gone, as one of the towering figures of 20th-century American literature.

He had won every accolade, bar the Nobel, and in 2005 the Library of America announced it would publish Roth’s works, lifting him into a pantheon that included the likes of Thomas Jefferson and Walt Whitman, only the third writer ever to receive that honour while still drawing breath. Roth was of such an elevated stature that in dying, he seemed to be joining his peers.

Related: Philip Roth obituary

Related: ‘Savagely funny and bitingly honest’ – 14 writers on their favourite Philip Roth novels

Portnoy's Complaint (1969)

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Bring Home The Revolution

In Bring Home the Revolution award-winning journalist and broadcaster Jonathan Freedland casts his vote for transforming the UK into a republic. The crux of this entertaining and highly readable argument is that it’s time Britain was more like America–in its political culture anyway. The pioneers who founded the American ideal not only exported a British revolution, he says, they exported Britain’s rightful destiny: a democratic, radical, egalitarian political style. As Washington correspondent for the Guardian until 1997, the author witnessed a diverse cross-section of US society; armed with more facts, figures and statistics than a government white paper, he covers many notable aspects of American life–from the ladies of Lesbianville to the Montana militiamen; from the spectacle of OJ Simpson’s trial to the infamous McDonald’s “hot coffee” lawsuit; from their written constitution, their self-made millionaires, their classlessness and their unshakeable belief that the “land of the free” is also the greatest country on earth.

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Jonathan Freedland looks on as his eight-day-old son is about to be circumcised and admitted into the Covenant of Abraham’. So begins a search for the meaning of his son’s inheritance and an epic journey into the nature of this, the world’s oldest civilisation. What has Freedland done by enlisting his son into the Jewish people? What gift or burden has he given him? Freedland digs deep into his own family’s past, telling the story of three remarkable people, each of whom came up with radically different answers to a quintessentially modern dilemma: how to live as a minority in the modern world. Rich in both human drama and reflection, Jacob’s Gift is the story of this quest, and a delightful meditation on belonging.

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