Ira Nadel

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Ira Nadel
Ira Bruce Nadel

(1943-07-22) July 22, 1943 (age 79)
Alma mater
OccupationProfessor of English at University of British Columbia
Known forBiography, literary criticism
Notable work
  • Various Positions: A Life of Leonard Cohen
  • Leon Uris: Life of a Best Seller
  • Joyce and the Jews: Culture and the Text

Ira Bruce Nadel (born July 22, 1943) is an American-Canadian biographer, literary critic and James Joyce scholar, and a distinguished professor at the University of British Columbia. He has written books on the twentieth-century Modernists, especially Ezra Pound and Joyce, biographies of Leonard Cohen and Leon Uris, and on Jewish-American authors. He has won Canadian literary awards, and has edited and written the introduction to a number of scholarly books and period pieces. He is a critic of the Olympic torch relay as a legacy of the Nazis.

Life and career[edit]

Nadel was born on July 22, 1943 in Rahway, New Jersey,[1] the son of Isaac David and Francis (Sofman) Nadel. He received a BA in 1965 and an MA in 1967 from Rutgers University, New Jersey, and a PhD in English in 1970 from Cornell University.[2][3] He joined the University of British Columbia as an assistant professor, was promoted to associate professor in 1977, and then to professor of English in 1985. He was chair of the Department of English graduate program from 1992 to 1995. As of 2004, he was a coeditor of the David Mamet Review, an advisory board member of The Journal of Modern Literature and Joyce Studies Annual, and an editorial board member of English Literature in Transition[2] and Autobiographical/Biographical Studies.[4] He is known in British Columbia as a long-serving book critic for CBC Radio's afternoon show.[1]

Personal life and views[edit]

Nadel's first marriage on June 5, 1966 ended when his wife died on February 23, 1975. He has two children from his second marriage, on July 4, 1976, to Josephine Margolis, a lawyer.[2] He has protested the use of the Olympic torch as a legacy from the Nazis.[5] Nadel considers the torch relay a fabrication by the Nazis in 1936 in Germany, and not associated with the ancient Olympics.[6]


Nadel's book, Leon Uris: Life of a Best Seller, was the first full-length biography of Uris. It was based on the archives at Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas, Austin and interviews with Uris's family. Nadel saw Uris's work as attacking anti-semitism with a fictional heroic Jewish past, but broadening the appeal to a non-Jewish readership.[7] Nadel revealed that Uris lived the life he described in a fictional setting, with many war experiences and travel to dangerous spots.[8]

Nadel published Joyce and the Jews in 1989, the first book to appear in print tackling the topic. The book explored both Joyce's personal relations with Jews and the influence of Judaic motifs on his writing. Nadel also looked at references to the Talmud in Joyce's Finnegans Wake. As a critic focusing on the influence of Jews and Judaism on Joyce, Nadel did not address the centrality of the Jewishness of Leopold Bloom, one of the central characters of Joyce's masterpiece, Ulysses.[9]:4 Nadel did note the shared impact of the concept of exodus on Jews and on Joyce, a voluntary exile from an Ireland then under the dominion of England.[9]:268

Nadel's biography of David Mamet, David Mamet: A Life in the Theatre, the first such,[10] qualified the playwright's own description of an unhappy childhood. It also tried to place Mamet's prolific output as an artist in a sociobiographical context, in an expanding arc from immediate family to Euro-American cultural influence.[11]:285 Nadel has also published a biography of Leonard Cohen, the singer, songwriter, poet and novelist, titled Various Positions: A Life of Leonard Cohen. He has also written about Ezra Pound.

Nadel co-edited The Victorian Muse, Gertrude Stein, The Making of Literature and a collection of previously unpublished Ezra Pound letters. He has also edited the Cambridge Companion to Ezra Pound, and organized conferences about the work of Joyce. He has edited an Oxford reprint of the American classic, The Education of Henry Adams, and Iolani: or, Tahiti as it was, by Wilkie Collins. Nadel is also the author of Tom Stoppard: A Life, on the prolific British theater playwright.

Literary style[edit]

Nadel depended on primary material and contemporaneous newspaper reports for his biography of Mamet. He focused on facts and less on interpretation and analysis.[11]:284 Tom Stoppard also never interacted with Nadel during the writing of Stoppard's biography, and actually commented on "Ira somebody uninvitedly writing" his biography.[12] To write about Ezra Pound, the author traveled to London to access the newly released MI 5 archives on the poet.[13] For Cohen's biography, Nadel did interview his subject and obtained access to unpublished material and authorization to write the biography.[14] Nadel's philosophy of writing biographies is that biographers need not interact with their subjects, but do need to appreciate their subjects' worth.[12] As per Nadel, a biography should tell the reader who the subject is, not what the subject has achieved.[14] He is concerned that the briefer modes of communication encouraged by social networking media such as Twitter may change how we capture and narrate others' lives. He speculates biographies may become packed into small fragments, as self-expression in general gets condensed by the influence of the new media.[15]

In his literary criticism, Nadel analyzes text content. He thinks of texts as riddles, and in writing about Joyce, has looked at intertextual connections between Charles Dickens's Our Mutual Friend and Joyce's Finnegans Wake.[16]:8


  • Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in 1996.[17]
  • Distinguished University Scholar, University of British Columbia.[17]
  • Killiam Faculty Research Fellowship in 1994.[17]
  • Killiam Research Prize in 1992.[17]
  • UBC Medal for Canadian Biography in 1996.[18][19]
  • Times of London top seven best books in theater and film in 2008 for David Mamet: A Life in the Theatre.[8]



  • Biography: Fiction, Fact & Form (London: Macmillan, 1984)
  • Joyce and the Jews: Culture and Texts (London: Macmillan, 1989)
  • Leonard Cohen (ECW Press, 1994)
  • Various Positions, A Life of Leonard Cohen (Random House, 1996)
  • Tom Stoppard: A Life (St. Martin’s Press, 2002)
  • Ezra Pound: A Literary Life (NY: Palgrave/ Macmillan, 2004)
  • David Mamet: A Life in the Theatre (NY: Palgrave/ Macmillan, 2008)
  • Critical Companion to Philip Roth (Facts on File, 2011)
  • Philip Roth: A Counterlife (Oxford University Press, 2021)

Editor of:[1]

Wrote introduction to

  • The Dead Secret by Wilkie Collins.[20]
  • Iolani, or Tahiti as it was by Wilkie Collins.[21]


  1. ^ a b c "Ira Nadel". ABC BookWorld.
  2. ^ a b c "Biographies: Contemporary authors, new revision series: Nadel, Ira Bruce 1953-". HighBeam Research. 1 January 2004. Archived from the original on 10 June 2014. Retrieved 3 August 2012.
  3. ^ "Ira B. Nadel". LibraryThing. Retrieved 1 August 2012.
  4. ^ "Auto/Biography studies: Who we are". Auto/Biography studies. 2008. Archived from the original on 11 May 2012. Retrieved 1 August 2012.
  5. ^ swarren (8 February 2010). "UBC prof speaks out against Olympic torch video". Ubyssey (University of British Columbia student newsletter). Archived from the original on 4 January 2014. Retrieved 3 August 2012.
  6. ^ John Allemang (24 October 2009). "This is the torch that Hitler lit". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 8 August 2012.
  7. ^ "Books, Israel explored". Hadassah magazine. 2012. Archived from the original on 15 April 2013. Retrieved 1 August 2012.
  8. ^ a b "University of Texas press : Leon Uris, Life of a best seller". University of Texas Press. 2011. Retrieved 3 August 2012.
  9. ^ a b Neil R. Davidson (1998). James Joyce, Ulysses, and the Construction of Jewish Identity. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0521636209.
  10. ^ Jeremy McCarter (24 February 2008). "Profane poet". New York Times: Sunday Book Review. Retrieved 3 August 2012.
  11. ^ a b Steven Price (Fall 2009). "Book Review of David Mamet: A Life in the Theatre". Style. 43 (3): 284. Archived from the original on 22 July 2010.
  12. ^ a b Brenda Maddox (9 May 1999). "Biography: A love affair or a job". New York Times: Book. Retrieved 3 August 2012.
  13. ^ Ira B. Nadel (1 September 2011). "Ira Nadel: A summer's day with MI 5". University of British Columbia ArtsWIRE. Retrieved 3 August 2012.
  14. ^ a b Gavin Wilson (23 January 1997). "Cohen biography puts author in the spotlight". University of British Columbia Reports.
  15. ^ Mary Leong (18 March 2011). "Biography: Its future as a book". University of British Columbia ArtsWIRE.
  16. ^ William Baker; Ira B. Nadel, eds. (2004). Redefining the modern: Essays on literature and society in honor of Joseph Wiesenfarth. Cranbury, NJ: Associated University Press. ISBN 0-8386-4013-3.
  17. ^ a b c d "Honours and distinctions". University of British Columbia: Department of English. 31 July 2012. Archived from the original on 13 March 2012. Retrieved 1 August 2012.
  18. ^ "People". University of British Columbia: Public affairs. 4 September 1997. Retrieved 1 August 2012.
  19. ^ "Leon Uris And "Exodus"- 50 Years Later". Schumaster Center for Jewish Studies at the University of Texas, Austin. 31 October 2008. Retrieved 1 August 2012.
  20. ^ "The dead secret: Wilkie Collins". Oxford University Press. Retrieved 1 August 2012.
  21. ^ James R. Kincaid (6 June 1999). "Topless in Tahiti". New York Times Book Review. Retrieved 1 August 2012.

External links[edit]