Steiner, George

Steiner, George, 1929–2020, American critic, essayist, novelist, and educator, b. Paris, France, immigrated to the United States 1940, became a U.S. citizen 1944; Ph.D. Oxford, 195). He spoke and wrote in French, German, and English with equal ease and praised the literary benefits of familiarity with several languages, but was a controversial figure, variously admired for his erudition or criticized as pretentious. His criticism analyzes literature, describing its moral power and its relation to culture, while noting its lack of force in confronting social evils, with a particular emphasis on the Holocaust.. Other preoccupations included the origins of speech, the myth and meaning of the Tower of Babel, and the nature of translation. Of his many books, which include essay and short-story collections and a novella, Tolstoy or Dostoevsky (1959) was the first; other critical works include The Death of Tragedy (1961), In Bluebeard's Castle: Some Notes toward the Redefinition of Culture (1971), After Babel: Aspects of Language and Translation (1975), Real Presences (1989), and No Passion Spent: Essays 1978–1995 (1996). Steiner edited The Economist (1952–56), was book reviewer for The New Yorker (1966–97), and from 1961 until his death taught at Cambridge.

See his George Steiner: A Reader (1984) and My Unwritten Books (2008); his autobiography Errata: An Examined Life (1998); N. A. Scott and R. A. Sharp, ed., Reading George Steiner (1994).

His wife, Zara Steiner, 1928–2020, was a distinguished American historian; b. New York City as Zara Alice Shakow, Ph.D. Harvard, 1957; they married in 1955. She specialized in international relations between the World Wars and in the 20th-century European and American history. Her most important books were The Foreign Office and Foreign Policy, 1898–1914 (1969), a study of the road to World War I; Britain and the Origins of the First World War (1977, 2d ed. 2003); The Light that Failed: European International History 1919–1939 (2005); and The Triumph of the Dark: European International History 1933–1939 (2010). She was a fellow of New Hall (now Murray Edwards College), Cambridge.

See her autobiographical essay in International History Review 39, no. 3 (2017).

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