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Errata: An Examined Life

Raised speaking German, French, and English, George Steiner, AB’48, was introduced to the Iliad—in Greek—at age 5. Nearly ever since, Steiner’s life has been intertwined with the Western intellectual tradition. The literary scholar and critic meditates on both in Errata: An Examined Life (Yale University Press, 1998). Author of almost 20 works of fiction and nonfiction, Steiner holds a lifetime position as extraordinary fellow of Churchill College at Cambridge University. Errata is his most personal work.

Born in 1929 in Paris to Viennese-Jewish parents, he emigrated to the United States with his family in 1940 and lived in New York. The memoirs recount his early studies, as well as undergraduate adventures at the U of C with ex-paratrooper roommate Alfie, who taught him poker and arranged his first sexual encounter. “I would do my best to coach him in his academic tasks,” Steiner writes. “He, in turn, would seek to make a passable human adult of me.”

In more serious commentaries, Steiner considers the Holocaust and Jews’ survival in the next century, argues the importance of language, and criticizes the decline of language and literary theory. With these intimate discussions of Western literature and history, Steiner sheds his own revealing light on the life of the mind. —S.G.

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