Tracy Daugherty, Joseph Heller’s first and perhaps last biographer, reports that people who met the man found it hard to believe that such an amiable mensch wrote Catch-22, the classic 1961 anti-war, anti-bureaucracy novel. None of his later writings were nearly as good or beloved.
Critics have long thought that the genius behind Catch-22 reflected a collaboration between Heller and an ambitious young Simon & Schuster editor named Robert Gottlieb. The principal achievement of Daugherty’s Just One Catch (St. Martin’s) is documenting the extent of Gottlieb’s handiwork. The question the book raises, making it more valuable than other conventional literary biographies, is how many other classic books were the result of similar teamwork. —Richard Kostelanetz