Michiko Kakutani

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Michiko Kakutani
Born (1955-01-09) January 9, 1955 (age 69)
Other namesMichi
EducationYale University (BA)
  • Critic
  • author
  • journalist
RelativesYoshiko Uchida (aunt)
AwardsPulitzer Prize for Criticism (1998)

Michiko Kakutani (born January 9, 1955) is an American writer and retired literary critic, best known for reviewing books for The New York Times from 1983 to 2017. In that role, she won the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism in 1998.

Early life and family[edit]

Kakutani, a Japanese American, was born on January 9, 1955, in New Haven, Connecticut. She is the only child of Yale mathematician Shizuo Kakutani and Keiko ("Kay") Uchida. Her father was born in Japan, and her mother was a second-generation Japanese-American who was raised in Berkeley, California.[1][2] Kakutani's aunt, Yoshiko Uchida, was an author of children's books.[1] Kakutani received her bachelor's degree in English literature from Yale University in 1976, where she studied under author and Yale writing professor John Hersey, among others.[3]


Kakutani initially worked as a reporter for The Washington Post, and then from 1977 to 1979 for Time magazine, where Hersey had worked. In 1979, she joined The New York Times as a reporter.[3]

Literary critic[edit]

Kakutani was a literary critic for The New York Times from 1983 until her retirement in 2017.[3] She gained particular notoriety for her sometimes-biting reviews of books from famous authors, with Slate remarking that "her name became a verb, and publishers have referred to her negative reviews as 'getting Kakutani'ed'".[4]

Many authors who received such reviews gave harsh public responses: in 2006, Kakutani called Jonathan Franzen's The Discomfort Zone "an odious self-portrait of the artist as a young jackass." Franzen subsequently called Kakutani "the stupidest person in New York City".[5][6] In 2012, Kakutani wrote a negative review of Nassim Nicholas Taleb's Antifragile.[7] In 2018, Taleb stated in his book Skin in the Game that "someone has to have read the book to notice that a reviewer is full of baloney, so in the absence of skin in the game, reviewers such as Michiko Kakutani" can "go on forever without anyone knowing" that they are fabricating and drunk.[8] According to Kira Cochrane in The Guardian, such counterattacks may have bolstered Kakutani's reputation as commendably "fearless."[5]

She has been known to write reviews in the voice of movie or book characters, including Brian Griffin,[9] Austin Powers,[10] Holden Caulfield,[11] Elle Woods of Legally Blonde,[12] and Truman Capote's character Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany's.[13]

On July 19, 2007, The New York Times published a pre-release story written by Kakutani about Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. An account of the ensuing controversy, including the critical comments of some Harry Potter fans, can be found on the newspaper's Public Editor's blog.[14]

Kakutani was parodied in the essay "I Am Michiko Kakutani" by one of her former Yale classmates, Colin McEnroe.[15]

Kakutani announced that she was stepping down as chief book critic of the Times on July 27, 2017.[6][16] In an article summarizing her book reviewing career, a writer in Vanity Fair called her "the most powerful book critic in the English-speaking world" and credited her with boosting the careers of George Saunders, Mary Karr, David Foster Wallace, Jonathan Franzen, Ian McEwan, Martin Amis, and Zadie Smith.[6]

Later work[edit]

In 2018, Kakutani published a book criticizing the Trump administration titled The Death of Truth: Notes on Falsehood in the Age of Trump.[17] In it, Kakutani draws parallels between postmodern philosophy and the number of false or misleading statements made by Trump. In an interview for the book, she argued:[18]

With its suspicion of grand, overarching narratives, postmodernism emphasized the role that perspective plays in shaping our readings of texts and events [...] and it opened the once-narrow gates of history to heretofore marginalized points of view. But as such, ideas seeped into popular culture and merged with the narcissism of the 'Me Decade' [and] also led to a more reductive form of relativism that allowed people to insist that their opinions were just as valid as objective truths verified by scientific evidence or serious investigative reporting".

Kakutani's second book, Ex-Libris: 100+ Books to Read and Re-Read, an essay collection about books that she considers personally and culturally influential, was published in 2020.[19]

In 2024, Kakutani published her third book, The Great Wave: The Era of Radical Disruption and the Rise of the Outsider.[20]

Personal life[edit]

Kakutani is a fan of the New York Yankees.[21][22] As of 2018, she lives on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.[23]

During her career at The New York Times, Kakutani developed a reputation as an extremely private person who was seldom seen in public, with articles describing her as "mysterious" and "reclusive".[24][25][26] Shawn McCreesh, writing in New York magazine, said that "you were likelier to have seen a snow leopard in Manhattan than to meet Kakutani in the wild".[23] However, upon the publication of The Death of Truth, Kakutani began giving interviews to print outlets, though she declined to appear on television.[23]

Media references[edit]

  • A fictionalized account of Kakutani's life entitled "Michiko Kakutani and the Sadness of the World!" was published in the online and print magazine Essays & Fictions.[27]
  • She is referenced in an episode of the HBO series Sex and the City. In "Critical Condition" (season 5, episode 6), Carrie Bradshaw releases a book that Kakutani reviews. Various characters deem the critic's name "too hard to pronounce," including Miranda Hobbes, who memorably states, "Just don't say her name again — it'll push me over the edge."[28]
  • She was referenced in an episode of Luca Guadagnino's limited HBO series We Are Who We Are. During the episode "Right Here, Right Now V", Fraser looks up Kakutani's review of The Kindly Ones[29] after the book is recommended by his crush Jonathan.
  • Comedian and Saturday Night Live cast member Bowen Yang performed an impression of Kakutani during his audition for the show, later joking that she was perfect for an impression since many are unaware of what she looks or sounds like.[24]


  • The Poet at the Piano: Portraits of Writers, Filmmakers, Playwrights, and Other Artists at Work. Times Books. 1988. ISBN 978-0812912777.
  • The Death of Truth: Notes on Falsehood in the Age of Trump. Crown Publishing Group. 2018. ISBN 978-0525574828.
  • Ex-Libris: 100+ Books to Read and Re-Read. Crown Publishing Group. 2020. ISBN 9780525574972.
  • The Great Wave: The Era of Radical Disruption and the Rise of the Outsider. Crown Publishing Group. 2024. ISBN 9780525574996.



  1. ^ a b Kakutani, Michiko (July 13, 2018), "I Know What Incarceration Does to Families. It Happened to Mine.", The New York Times
  2. ^ Niiya, Bruce. "Yoshiko Uchida". Densho. Retrieved July 14, 2018.
  3. ^ a b c d "Criticism — Biography". Pulitzer Prizes. 1998. Archived from the original on July 4, 2007. Retrieved July 9, 2007..
  4. ^ Martinelli, Marissa (July 27, 2017). ""The Stupidest Person in New York City": How Authors Responded to Michiko Kakutani's Harshest Reviews". Slate. Retrieved July 15, 2022.
  5. ^ a b Cochrane, Kira (April 30, 2008). "Don't mess with Michiko Kakutani". the Guardian. Retrieved March 21, 2018.
  6. ^ a b c Pompeo, Joe (2017). "Michiko Kakutani, the Legendary Book Critic and the Most Feared Woman in Publishing, Is Stepping Down from The New York Times". The Hive. Retrieved March 21, 2018.
  7. ^ Kakutani, Michiko (December 16, 2012). "'Antifragile,' by Nassim Nicholas Taleb". The New York Times. Retrieved March 21, 2018.
  8. ^ Taleb, Nassim Nicholas (2018). Skin in the Game: Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life. Random House Publishing Group. p. 44. ISBN 9780425284636.
  9. ^ Kakutani, Michiko (December 6, 2010). "Marilyn, Dostoyevsky and Me, Her Pup". The New York Times. Retrieved December 6, 2010.
  10. ^ Kakutani, Michiko (July 23, 2002). "Hipoisie and Chic-oisie And London Had the Mojo". The New York Times. Retrieved July 9, 2007.
  11. ^ Kakutani, Michiko (August 23, 2005). "Who's Afraid of Holden Caulfield?". The New York Times. Retrieved July 9, 2007.
  12. ^ Kakutani, Michiko (June 19, 2005). "Digging For Gold In Stilettos And Silk". The New York Times. Retrieved September 16, 2019.
  13. ^ Kakutani, Michiko (October 24, 2005). "Tru, Dear, There's Only One Holly. Moi". The New York Times. Retrieved July 9, 2007.
  14. ^ Hoyt, Clark (July 19, 2007). "Did The Times Betray Harry Potter Fans?". The New York Times. Retrieved May 12, 2010.
  15. ^ McEnroe, Colin (January 1999). "I Am Michiko Kakutani". McSweeney's. Retrieved March 5, 2016.
  16. ^ "Michiko Kakutani Is Retiring", Press Run, NYT, July 27, 2017.
  17. ^ Zack, Jessica (July 17, 2018). "Book critic Michiko Kakutani takes on Trump in 'The Death of Truth'". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved July 19, 2018.
  18. ^ Been, Eric Allen (July 25, 2018). "Michiko Kakutani, esteemed book critic, has finally written a book. It's about Trump". Vox. Retrieved July 15, 2022.
  19. ^ "Ex Libris: 100+ Books to Read and Reread". Book Reporter. Retrieved July 14, 2022.
  20. ^ "The Great Wave". Penguin Random House. Retrieved February 20, 2024.
  21. ^ Kakutani, Michiko (October 22, 2004). "In a Fan's Eyes, the World Turns Upside Down". The New York Times. Retrieved November 19, 2016.
  22. ^ Kakutani, Michiko (January 26, 2009). "Insider's View of What Went Wrong in the Bronx". The New York Times. Retrieved November 19, 2016.
  23. ^ a b c McCreesh, Shawn (July 23, 2018). "230 Minutes With Michiko Kakutani". Vulture. Retrieved July 15, 2022.
  24. ^ a b Dowd, Maureen (January 25, 2020). "Bowen Yang of 'S.N.L.' Is a Smash. And a Mensch". The New York Times. Retrieved August 28, 2021.
  25. ^ Pilkington, Ed (May 11, 2010). "'This remarkably tedious novel': Michiko Kakutani skewers Martin Amis". The Guardian. Retrieved July 15, 2022.
  26. ^ Paulson, Steve (July 3, 2005). "Michiko Kakutani: You know when you've been Kakutanied". The Independent. Retrieved July 15, 2022.
  27. ^ Michaels, Joseph, "Michiko Kakutani and the Sadness of the World!", Essays and Fictions, 8.
  28. ^ Waters, Juliet (October 13, 2005). "Candace Bushnell moves from chick lit to fem lit with Lipstick Jungle". Montreal Mirror. Archived from the original on May 12, 2006. Retrieved July 9, 2007.
  29. ^ Kakutani, Michiko (February 23, 2009), "Unrepentant and Telling of Horrors Untellable", The New York Times, retrieved April 9, 2009

External links[edit]