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Robert Boyers is the founder and longtime editor of the American quarterly magazine Salmagundi. Launched in 1965 and headquartered in 1969 at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York.  The magazine publishes essays, reviews, interviews, fiction, poetry, regular columns, polemics, debates, and symposia and is widely regarded as one of the most influential intellectual quarterlies in the United States.

As a graduate student at New York University in 1965 Boyers first met George Steiner, then a distinguished professor. A year later Boyers began a lifelong correspondence with Susan Sontag. These initial contacts led to intense, sometimes difficult friendships that persisted over decades. What emerges in Maestros & Monsters is a dual portrait, a compelling life story and a revealing meditation on admiration, friendship, and the will to power in persons whose ambitions and achievements, were as outsized as their intellects.

Maestros & Monsters explores Boyer’s friendships with two major twentieth century secular Jewish intellectuals who achieved celebrity status—Susan Sontag on a global scale, George Steiner principally in Europe and the US. Both disliked and mistrusted one another and inspired in others an odd mix of admiration, envy, and contempt. Both were at once charismatic and forbidding. Each was subjected to violent attacks.  Both were enormously influential, and controversial, attracting readers and audiences far beyond the reach of other thinkers and critics of their generation. Each exuded an air of omniscience and self-confidence.  Sontag was the prime embodiment of the term “intellectual.” Steiner was frequent media commentator, invited to take on everything from Holocaust controversies to fast breaking political crises. He was also the author of several major books and for thirty years a regular book critic for The New Yorker.

Boyers, a well-known public intellectual, was close to Sontag and Steiner for over a half century. He often wondered at their mutual antipathy. In fact, as recorded in the memoir, he managed to bring them together only on a few occasions—the only times they ever met. Those encounters produced several wrenching and hilarious exchanges, which are among the most bizarre episodes in this narrative. But then there are other bizarre and memorable encounters recorded in the memoir, which features episodes involving other literary luminaries such as Arthur Koestler, Edward Said, Phillip Rieff, and James Wood.


Boyers memoir is an insider’s account of the controversies that Sontag and Steiner generated, an effort to explain their extraordinary fame and influence, and their role in shaping the culture of the mid-and-late twentieth century. This memoir engages with a wide range of questions that remain vital: What are the virtues and drawbacks of an “elitist” opposition both to mass culture and to political correctness? Does the refusal to promote “community values” and “moderation” disable or compromise the kind of cultural criticism exemplified by both Sontag and Steiner? Why would two radically singular thinkers seem both thrilling and dangerous to contemporary intellectuals and academics?

Maestros & Monsters

SKU: 9791942134862
  • ROBERT BOYERS, born in 1942, founded the American quarterly magazine Salmagundi in 1965 and continues to edit the journal, to teach at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York and to direct The New York State Summer Writers Institute. Boyers is the author of hundreds of periodical essays and of a dozen books, most recently a widely discussed 2019 book on the “culture wars” entitled The Tyranny of Virtue: Identity, The Academy & The Hunt for Political Heresies. His other books include two works on politics and the novel, a volume of short stories and a 2015 book on The Fate of Ideas. In 2009 he edited and wrote the introduction for George Steiner at The New Yorker, a book that has been published in more than twenty languages.

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