All We Know: Three Lives

Author(s): Lisa Cohen

Biography & Memoir

Esther Murphy was a brilliant New York intellectual who dazzled friends and strangers with an unstoppable flow of conversation. But she never finished the books she was contracted to write--a painful failure and yet a kind of achievement.
The quintessential fan, Mercedes de Acosta had intimate friendships with the legendary actresses and dancers of the twentieth century. Her ephemeral legacy lies in the thousands of objects she collected to preserve the memory of those performers and to honor the feelings they inspired.
An icon of haute couture and a fashion editor of British "Vogue," Madge Garland held bracing views on dress that drew on her feminism, her ideas about modernity, and her love of women. Existing both vividly and invisibly at the center of cultural life, she--like Murphy and de Acosta--is now almost completely forgotten.
In "All We Know," Lisa Cohen describes these women's glamorous choices, complicated failures, and controversial personal lives with lyricism and empathy. At once a series of intimate portraits and a startling investigation into style, celebrity, sexuality, and the genre of biography itself, "All We Know" explores a hidden history of modernism and pays tribute to three compelling lives.


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"Splendid . . . [A] sophisticated, droll and astute triple biography. [Cohen] had me underlining ideas and facts on the majority of its quick-moving pages . . . The photographs are strikingly integrated with the text, the times and topics are riveting, and Cohen is exceedingly well-matched to her subjects--sly, comfortable with contradiction, confident that these flawed figures were important, not mere accents to the company they kept . . . Part of the joy of "All We Know" is the sharpness of the subjects; they write wittily of themselves, each other and innumerable compatriots in the cultural centers of Europe and the United States, often in dazzling style." --Karen R. Long, "The Plain Dealer "(Cleveland)
"[A] tour de force examination of the intersecting roles of gender, sexuality, class, literature, art, fashion, and modernism . . . Throughout this brilliant and gorgeously written book runs an undercurrent of deep sympathy and an acute eye for revealing details." --Kate Tuttle, "The Boston Globe
""Provocative and beautifully paced . . . [A] superbly satisfying book . . . By bringing these three footnotes into the spotlight, Ms. Cohen allows us to look deeper into our definitions of failure, identity and modernity, while also reappraising the stature of artfulness as opposed to art." --Laura Jacobs, "The Wall Street Journal
""[A] magisterial book . . . "All We Know" is really much more about reflecting on lives (especially in the case of de Acosta) than about chronicling them. Experimental biography, if such a genre can be said to exist, is a high-wire act. Cohen never loses her balance . . . There's no hint of mess in this almost perfect book." --"Bloomberg News
""Fascinating . . . Vivid . . . A gossipy yet deeply intellectual account of the first generation of women who considered themselves 'modern' . . . "All We Know "is a revolutionary take on the genre of biography, aiming not so much at each of its three subjects but at theirh

General Fields

  • : 9780374176495
  • : Farrar Straus Giroux
  • : Farrar Straus Giroux
  • : June 2012
  • : United States
  • : books

Special Fields

  • : Lisa Cohen
  • : Hardback
  • : 920.72
  • : 429
  • : illustrations