Young Man, Muddled
Celebrated essayist, biographer, and non-fiction book writer Robert Kanigel presents a memoir of his meandering, serendipitous path from engineer to writer. Kanigel invites the reader back in time for a journey rich with a sense of time and place, beginning with his childhood as the son of Jewish parents in Brooklyn. He attends Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, then moves to Baltimore and begins working at an ammunition lab. The Vietnam War lurks as a shadow just offstage, coloring his need for work and various engineering jobs he takes. He pursues a string of romances, all ending in heartbreak, until he meets Maura, a firebrand of a woman pursuing her Ph. D. in biology, who beckons him to Europe, where he spends several lonely months as an anglophone in Paris. Spared the military draft by a high lottery number, he returns to Baltimore with Maura, finally quits his engineering job, and becomes a writer, “not,” Kanigel says, “because I decided to become a writer, but because I began to write.” His first writing job, a series of essays for a local paper he proposed on a whim, spirals into a prestigious career. Kanigel is not the hero of his own story, but his sometimes self-deprecating honesty makes for a deeply moving tale of a young man who, in his words, “muddled” his way into writing.
ROBERT KANIGEL is the author of nine previous books, most recently Hearing Homer’s Song: The Brief Life and Big Idea of Milman Parry and, before that, Eyes on the Street, his biography of Jane Jacobs. He has received many awards, including a Guggenheim fellowship, the Grady-Stack Award for science writing, and an NEH Public Scholar grant. His book The Man Who Knew Infinity was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize; it has been translated into more than a dozen languages and was the basis for the film of the same name starring Jeremy Irons and Dev Patel. Kanigel and his wife, the poet S. B. Merrow, live in Baltimore.