Margolis, Jonathan 1955-
Margolis, Jonathan 1955-
Born June 6, 1955, in London, England; son of Maurice (in business) and Sylvia (a journalist) Margolis; married, May 9, 1976; wife's name Susan (a television reporter); children: Ruth, David, Eleanor. Education: University of Nottingham, B.A. (with honors). Politics: Labour. Religion: Jewish.
Home—Richmond, England. Agent—Jane Gelfman, John Farquharson Ltd., 250 W. 57th St., New York, NY 10107.
Hothouse People, Pan Books (London, England), 1987.
Cleese Encounters, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1992.
(With Gabrielle Morris) The Commuter's Tale, Chapmans (London, England), 1992.
Freddie Star Ate My Hamster, Orion (London, England), 1994.
The Big Yin: The Life and Times of Billy Connolly, Chapmans (London, England), 1994.
Lenny Henry, Orion, (London, England), 1996.
Bernard Manning, Orion (London, England), 1997.
Michael Palin: A Biography, Orion (London, England), 1997.
Uri Geller: Magician or Mystic?, Welcome Rain (New York, NY), 1999.
A Brief History of Tomorrow: The Future, Past and Present, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 2000.
O: The Intimate History of the Orgasm, Grove Press (New York, NY), 2004.
Television critic for Mail on Sunday, 1991-92; columnist for the Sunday Times, 1992—. Contributor to periodicals, including the Reader's Digest, Financial Times, Evening Standard, and Time.
Jonathan Margolis's body of work is diverse, including biographies of Monty Python troupe members John Cleese and Michael Palin as well as psychic Uri Geller, plus an exploration of which visions of the future have come to pass—and which have not—in A Brief History of Tomorrow: The Future, Past and Present. As frequent contributor to Time magazine, he "often investigates the more peculiar facets of life," noted a Time profile in 2000.
Monty Python's comedy certainly investigated life's peculiarities—and found peculiarity in the mundane. John Cleese has been one of the highest-profile members of the Python group, having followed the Monty Python's Flying Circus television show with another successful series, Fawlty Towers, and appearances in numerous films. "John Cleese is arguably one of the funniest people now living," commented Gahan Wilson in a piece on Margolis's biography Cleese Encounters for the New York Times Book Review. Wilson thought, however, that Margolis's "thoroughly depressing portrait of Mr. Cleese's childhood … ends up robbing the later account of Mr. Cleese's many triumphs—the lovely silly walk, Basil Fawlty, the movies ‘Clockwise’ and ‘The Life of Brian’—of an awful lot of the fun, and much of the funniness." Wilson did allow that the book was "a trove of information for anyone interested in its subject."
In A Brief History of Tomorrow, Margolis looks at past soothsayers' projections and also what futurologists predicted at the dawn of the twenty-first century. He shows that some forecasts have been bizarrely optimistic, such as the expectation that cars would fly or a network of canals would link distant nations; some overly dire, like the prediction that oil supplies would be depleted by the end of the 1980s; and some just plain silly, as perceived by modern sensibilities, including a British newspaper's comment in 1900 that within a hundred years female harpists would no longer be considered scandalous. Margolis also points out the prognostications that have proved accurate, such as that people would drive on limited-access highways or use a satellite communications network. He rounds out the book by interviewing a variety of thinkers and putting forth some ideas about the future, which are "both well-presented and disturbingly familiar," according to Entertainment Weekly's L.S. Klepp. Throughout, Margolis emphasizes that concepts of what lies ahead are colored by present realities. "This is a clever look at how the world could have been, how it might be and how it won't be," observed a Publishers Weekly contributor. A Kirkus Reviews critic deemed the book "a light and lively survey." In a review in Booklist, Gilbert Taylor related that Margolis provides "a cornucopia of lively commentary about everything from artificial intelligence to genetic engineering to global warming" and praised the author's "sensible perspective."
In the biography Uri Geller: Magician or Mystic?, Margolis writes about the life of the famed performer of paranormal feats, such as bending spoons with his mind. In the process, Margolis also conducts an examination into Geller's various demonstrations in an effort to determine their validity. Writing in the New Statesman, Martyn Bedford noted that Margolis "is adept at mapping out Geller's fascinating path from childhood in Israel and Cyprus to a superstar lifestyle in the US and Britain, as well as undercover work for the CIA and Mossad." Bedford went on to write that the book is "an even-handed and assiduously researched work." Several reviewers also noted that Margolis started the biography as a skeptic of Geller's paranormal abilities but became a believer before the book was finished. A Publishers Weekly contributor wrote that the author "becomes an advocate, even for some of the stranger claims made on Geller's behalf."
Margolis examines sex and, specifically, orgasms in his book O: The Intimate History of the Orgasm. The author refers back in time to numerous treatises and anecdotes about orgasms, such as the ancient Chinese pillow book, which instructs newlyweds on how to fulfill each others' desires. Margolis also includes illustrations on forty-eight sexual positions. In addition to his historical look at sex, the author ponders the evolutionary and physiological reasons behind orgasms, noting that they are not necessary for conception. Placing an emphasis on women's descriptions of orgasms, Margolis delves into the ability of women to experience multiple orgasms in quick succession. He also discusses orgasms in various species of animals and delves into what makes them occur or not occur.
Critics had a wide range of opinions about O, including some who thought the author was too glib and not scientific enough in his approach to the subject. In general, however, reviewers praised the book as providing entertaining insights into the subject. Some reviewers, combined both views, such as a Kirkus Reviews contributor who called the book "glib and entertaining." Many reviewers noted the wide-ranging fields of interest that Margolis employed to write the book, including Patricia Monaghan, who noted in Booklist that "there is no discipline that Margolis doesn't employ to explore his fascinating subject." Referring to O as "immensely entertaining and informative" a Publishers Weekly contributor also wrote that the author "has created a fresh, compelling work guaranteed to ignite much late-night conversation."
One reviewer, in particular, had enormous praise for O. Peter W. Barlow, a biologist writing in Behavior, noted: "Only astonishment can follow from reading this excellent book on account of the sheer density and variety of facts and commentaries concerning the human orgasm and its relationship to social and religious politics, human conflicts and, of course, to the more personal human pursuits of relationship and happiness." Barlow also noted: "The book is well written and the ideas easy to comprehend, as might be expected from the pen of a practicing journalist. It could be profitably studied by all who are seriously interested in the impact that sex has had, and is having, on human lives in diverse cultures and during different historical epochs."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Behavior, June, 2005, Peter W. Barlow, review of O: The Intimate History of the Orgasm, p. 357.
Booklist, November 15, 2000, Gilbert Taylor, review of A Brief History of Tomorrow: The Future, Past and Present, p. 592; October 15, 2004, Patricia Monaghan, review of O, p. 369.
Entertainment Weekly, December 8, 2000, L.S. Klepp, review of A Brief History of Tomorrow, p. 92.
Kirkus Reviews, October 15, 2000, review of A Brief History of Tomorrow, p. 1467; August 15, 2004, review of O, p. 792.
Library Journal, October 1, 2004, Mary Ann Hughes, review of O, p. 100.
New Statesman, November 27, 1998, Martyn Bedford, review of Uri Geller: Magician or Mystic?, p. 55.
New York Times Book Review, November 15, 1992, Gahan Wilson, "The Man with the Silly Walk."
Publishers Weekly, July 5, 1999, review of Uri Geller, p. 47; October 30, 2000, review of A Brief History of Tomorrow, p. 63; August 23, 2004, review of O, p. 43.
Seattle Times, February 15, 2006, Melinda Bargreen, review of O.
Time, March 6, 2000, "To Our Readers," p. 4; March 13, 2000, "Contributors," brief profile of author, p. 4.
Random House UK Web site,http://www.randomhouse.co.uk/ (April 12, 2007), brief profile of author.
Spannered,http://www.spannered.org/ (April 12, 2007), review of O.
Village Voice Online,http://www.villagevoice.com/ (November 30, 2004), Jenny Davidson, review of O.
Yoniverse,http://www.yoniversum.nl/ (April 12, 2007), "I Almost Dropped a Book in the Garbage Can," review of O.