Both controversial and beloved, Edward Said was the pioneer of postcolonial studies, a tireless champion for his native Palestine, and an erudite literary critic whose books, namely Orientalism, continue to impact students and thinkers today. In Places of Mind, Timothy Brennan—who studied under Said and remained a friend until Said’s death in 2003—provides the first complete biography of his thesis adviser, who emerges as a self-doubting, tender, eloquent advocate of literature’s dramatic effects on politics and civic life.
Charting the intertwined routes of Said’s intellectual development, Places of Mind reveals him to be a brilliant iconoclast: a cajoler and strategist, a New York intellectual with a foot in Beirut, an orchestra impresario in Weimar and Ramallah, a raconteur on national television, a Palestinian negotiator at the State Department, and an actor in films in which he played himself. Brennan traces the Arab influences on Said’s thinking along with the tutelage by Lebanese statesmen, offbeat modernist auteurs, and New York literati as Said grew into a scholar whose writings changed the face of university life forever.
Drawing on the testimony of family, friends, students, and antagonists alike, and aided by FBI files, Said’s unpublished writings and drafts of novels and personal letters, Places of Mind synthesizes Said’s intellectual breadth and influence into an unprecedented, intimate, and compelling portrait of one of the great minds of the twentieth century.
Timothy Brennan is the author of several books, including At Home in the World: Cosmopolitanism Now; Borrowed Light: Vico, Hegel, and the Colonies; and Salman Rushdie and the Third World: Myths of the Nation. His writing has appeared in The Nation, The Times Literary Supplement, and many other publications. He teaches in the humanities department at the University of Minnesota and has received fellowships from the Fulbright Program, the American Council of Learned Societies, the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Kai Bird, Executive Director of the Leon Levy Center for Biography, co-authored with Martin J. Sherwin the Pulitzer Prize-winning biography American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer (Knopf, 2005). He has also written biographies of John J. McCloy and McGeorge Bundy—and a memoir, Crossing Mandelbaum Gate: Coming of Age Between the Arabs and Israelis (Scribner, 2010). His most recent book is The Good Spy: The Life and Death of Robert Ames (Crown, 2014). His biography of President Jimmy Carter, The Outlier: the Unfinished Presidency of Jimmy Carter, will be published on May 11, 2021 by Crown Books.