Cartoonist Saul Steinberg will always be associated with his 1976 drawing, “View of the World from 9th Avenue.” His satiric map foregrounds the buildings of 9th and 10th avenues and looks outward across the Hudson River to a thin strip labeled “Jersey,” fading into a few bumps of the American West, a perfunctory Pacific Ocean, and in the distance, hints of China, Japan, and Russia. It was widely read as a smirking depiction of cosmopolitan self-centeredness.
But reading Deirdre Bair’s “Saul Steinberg: A Biography,” we learn that this interpretation was at odds with Steinberg’s somber intent. He had not drawn the luxurious parts of Manhattan, but the working-class neighborhoods, and his subject was American provincialism and disconnectedness, not urban smug self-satisfaction. This is just one of the many fresh revelations in this comprehensive and engaging biography.