cover of book

On Not Being Someone Else: Tales of Our Unled Lives
by Andrew H. Miller
Harvard University Press, 2020
eISBN: 978-0-674-24520-4 | Paper: 978-0-674-27118-0 | Cloth: 978-0-674-23808-4
Library of Congress Classification PN56.S46M55 2020
Dewey Decimal Classification 809.93353


“To be someone—to be anyone—is about…not being someone else. Miller’s amused and inspired book is utterly compelling.”
—Adam Phillips

“A compendium of expressions of wonder over what might have been…Swept up in our real lives, we quickly forget about the unreal ones. Still, there will be moments when, for good or ill, we feel confronted by our unrealized possibilities.”
New Yorker

We live one life, formed by paths taken and untaken. Choosing a job, getting married, deciding on a place to live or whether to have children—every decision precludes another. But what if you’d gone the other way?

From Robert Frost to Sharon Olds, Virginia Woolf to Ian McEwan, Jane Hirshfield to Carl Dennis, storytellers of every stripe consider the roads not taken, the lives we haven’t led. What is it that compels us to identify with fictional and poetic voices tantalizing us with the shadows of what might have been? Not only poets and novelists, but psychologists and philosophers have much to say on this question. Miller finds wisdom in all of these, revealing the beauty, the allure, and the danger of sustaining or confronting our unled lives.

“Miller is charming company, both humanly and intellectually. He is onto something: the theme of unled lives, and the fascinating idea that fiction intensifies the sense of provisionality that attends all lives. An extremely attractive book.”
—James Wood

“An expertly curated tour of regret and envy in literature…Miller’s insightful and moving book—both in his own discussion and in the tales he recounts—gently nudges us toward consolation.”
Wall Street Journal

“I wish I had written this book…Examining art’s capacity to transfix, multiply, and compress, this book is itself a work of art.”
Times Higher Education

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