The Human Stain

The Human Stain
by: Philip Roth

Challenges: My Year of Reading Dangerously

Published: 2000

# of pages: 361

What a deep book. Honestly, I didn’t really like it much. The language was crude and so was the subject matter. Sure, it gives the reader an unedited glimpse of human nature. And I appreciated that there’s at least one person out there addressing how out of control the concept of being “politically correct” has become.

The Human Stain uses the character of Coleman Silk, the former dean at a small town college and professor of ancient literature, as an example of what mob mentality can do to an individual person. And an example of what happens to someone who loses everything for a reason that is unexplainable. One word changes Silk’s life forever and the injustice is hard to read about. The reader wants to step into the book and yell at these people, “How can you do this to someone!? How can you sacrifice a good man who has accomplished so much and helped each of you out?”

I don’t enjoy reading about war and depression and sexual misconduct and death and deceit. It’s bad enough reading the news everyday. The subjects in the book made it hard to pick it up and read about them happening to fictional characters. I think there are things to be learned from this book, but a lot of it we already know about. Unfortunately, most people already know about the stains humans leave behind.

There is a plot twist to the book. I liked the part that told of Coleman’s childhood. I was also interested in the memories of Les Farley, the Vietnam veteran who struggles with post traumatic stress disorder. It’s one thing to read about that in history books, but another to get into the mind of a character who experienced all of that and returned home to find everything changed with no understanding or support available.

Anyway, I recommend this book to fans of Roth and people who enjoy intellectual books that explore the minds and thoughts of all different types of people, from war vets to college deans. Like I’ve mentioned several times, it has a lot of bad language and sexual descriptions so avoid it if that bothers you.


3 thoughts on “The Human Stain

  1. I’m not sure if Roth is for me either. The only book of his I’ve read left me mostly indifferent (The Ghost Writer). I guess I’ll try another one before making up my mind.


  2. I’m an avid Roth fan, but I can certainly understand how he wouldn’t be everyone’s bag. His crassness doesn’t bother me so much because I always find myself endlessly fascinated by his character studies. I was pawing Exit Ghost at the book store last night, but I really need to read more of his Zuckerman novels before I tackle that one.Andi


  3. I started that book and got about 3/4 of the way through before ultimately abandoning it. There were some things I really liked, and some things I just didn’t get into. The “stream of consciousness” style of writing was okay, but I felt like the plot wasn’t really moving anywhere. And the twist in the middle just felt anticlimatic. Definitely a very <>different<> book.


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