Young Man, Muddled

Robert Kanigel

In this, his first memoir, celebrated biographer and non-fiction book author Robert Kanigel tells of “muddling” his way into adulthood, love, and a new life. The 1950s formed him first; then the 1960s got their grip on him.

His journey, rich in its sense of time and place, begins with his childhood in Brooklyn. After college, where he was trained as an engineer, he takes a job in Baltimore with a company he calls “the ammo lab”; the Vietnam War lurks just offstage all through this story. Though his work serves the military, Kanigel shows up for the March on the Pentagon, one of the first big anti-war rallies. Later, he meets Maura, a firebrand of a woman pursuing a doctorate in biology, who beckons him to Europe. He spends lonely months in Paris, unable to crack French. With Maura. he returns to Baltimore, forsakes engineering forever, and morphs into a writer – “not,” he says, “because I decided to become a writer, but because I began to write.” His first project is a series of essays he proposes on a whim to an underground newspaper; this one stark act sets him on a meandering, serendipitous path that no one, least of all himself, could have predicted.